June 28, 2012

‘People Like Us’ explores meaning of family

Posted in Between Us column, Movies, Relationships at 5:10 pm by dinaheng

For some people, family defines the people you go to when you’re in need of help. For others, family are the people you share your joy and laughter with. For everyone, family relationships are complicated, behaviors are often dysfunctional, and more often than not, there are secrets that lie at the heart of the family unit.

This week, Disney and DreamWorks releases a summer film by writer/director Alex Kurtzman called “People Like Us,” a contemporary tale about a lost soul who discovers he has a sister he never knew. When the secret of his dead father’s second family comes to light, Sam Harper (played by Chris Pine) is forced to look at everything he ever thought about his childhood and parents.

The film, in theaters on Friday, June 29, is a departure from the blockbuster sci-fi and action films that Kurtzman is known for writing, among them “Star Trek,” “Transformers,” and “Cowboys & Aliens.”

“People Like Us” was penned by Kurtzman, his writing partner Roberto Orci, and Jody Lambert, with Kurtzman taking the helm as director.

“Studios rarely make movies these days about what it means to be part of a family,” Kurtzman says. “The message of this movie is that no matter how close you are — or how far you are from your family — your family is who you are. All families are complicated in different ways. They put you in close proximity with people you don’t necessarily agree with. But even broken families can be mended if people face the truth.”

The film features solid performances by Pine (best known for his role of James T. Kirk in the 2009 film “Star Trek”) and Elizabeth Banks (“The Hunger Games” and NBC’s “30 Rock”), as Sam Harper’s half-sister, Frankie Davis. Acclaimed actress Michelle Pfeiffer looked the part of Sam’s mother, Lillian, but spoke with a voice that seems better suited to younger, sexier roles.

While each of the characters have traits that audiences will relate to, the theme that “you are your family” seems nebulous and in need of a deeper point.

“Who you are is defined by how you grew up, and what you had around you,” Kurtzman says. “If you’re moving away from it, your life will be defined by that. We are the sum total of our history, and part of growing up is accepting that’s okay.”

Growing up in a house of lies as Sam Harper does would not be easy for anyone. But as Kurtzman points out, the film also shares the lesson of the Rashomon effect.

“If there’s an event and you ask four people what happened, they’ll each tell you a different version,” Kurtzman says. “There’s no one truth. The truth that matters is the one you believe.”

“People Like Us” will not appeal to everyone, but those who choose to see it will find some thoughtful moments sure to ring true in every family.

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