Saturday, July 21, 2012

Alex Kurtzman: People Like Us

Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Hall D'Addario, People Like Us, Touchstone Pictures, 2012.

Utilizing cliche and past artifice ingeniously, Transformers screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are the surprising generators of one of this Summer's most affecting films. People Like Us is the perfect example of a picture with a plot that's been done to death; the strength of a film lies in its energy, its vision behind it. While the script is an important half, the actualization of said script into a bad or good film is something one can never quite bottle.

Having scribed the lambasted blockbuster franchise of the Transformers, it is quite delightful to view this spry, emotional, energetic little film. Their script is well written; Kurtzman's work with his cast is exceptional.

A long-lost sibling story set in the L.A. music scene, People Like Us lives up to its title in locating the heart in the midst of all the prefigured plot moves. That is its most fascinating facet, a conflux of style and theme. Visualizing these arcs is the brilliant Salvatore Totino; his gift with light is illuminating day light with a weightless awe. A.R. Rahman's score is integral, moving and playful, alternately.

Chris Pine fits well into his role as Sam, a salesman with a wall built around him, who must come home to L.A. for his record producer father's funeral. I haven't particularly cared for Pine in past films; Star Trek and This Means War were both pretty forgettable. Here, he finds the right mode to make us believe in his frustrating character.

Olivia Wilde, as his suspicious fiance, and Michael Hall D'Addario, as his precocious nephew, are both very good. But Kurtzman gives the film to Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Pfeiffer. Banks, one of the most refreshing actresses in Hollywood, finally gets the role she's so deserved as Frankie,  Sam's no-nonsense bartender sister. Her conviction in the role, and how this reads as conflicting on her beautiful face, is one of the great joys of the film. Michelle Pfeiffer gets one of her best roles in years as Lillian, Sam's rock waif mother, her own wall of grief built up around her.

Kurtzman's own wall of melodrama is palpable. We see the golden traditions cascading down, Sirk and Cassavetes meeting somewhere in the middle. The inspired realization of standard exposition hasn't felt this freeing in some time.

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