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People Like Us Blu-ray + DVD Review

People Like Us (2012) movie poster People Like Us

Theatrical Release: June 29, 2012 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Alex Kurtzman / Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jody Lambert / Songs List

Cast: Chris Pine (Sam Harper), Elizabeth Banks (Frankie Davis), Michael Hall D'Addario (Josh Davis), Michelle Pfeiffer (Lillian Harper), Olivia Wilde (Hannah), Mark Duplass (Ted), Sara Mornell (Dr. Amanda), Philip Baker Hall (Ike Rafferty), Dean Chekvala (Jerry Harper), Barbara Eve Harris (Mrs. Haney), David Burrus (David), Joseph Wise (Danny), Devin Brochu (Simon), Gabriela Mills (Lucy), Abhi Sinha (Manager), Jon Favreau (James Richards)

Buy People Like Us from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • DVD • Instant Video

People Like Us is one of the few American movies whose title pronunciation isn't perfectly obvious to English speakers.
Is it People Like Us as in people show us affection? Or is People Like Us as in people similar to us? Without knowing that, you can't know where to place the emphasis. Perhaps the possibility of embarrassment at picking the wrong one when ordering tickets is to blame for the film's complete box office failure. There are, however, more believable ways to explain why people stayed away from this summer drama, including the lack of major stars and a compelling premise. There was the timing that pitted this small character study against superheroes and other behemoths capitalizing on summer vacation. There was also the decision to promote this as "From the studio that brought you The Help." It was a true claim and made clear the film's model for word-of-mouth success, but ultimately of little value. Studios matter in animation and that's about it these days.

The studio in question is DreamWorks Pictures, part of the company that Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen founded in the 1990s. While "DreamWorks" stands as one of the most recognizable brands in the business these days, that is the entirely separate animation division headed by Katzenberg and succeeding on broadly-appealing comedy 'toons. The live-action side struggled a bit as its own distributor and aligned with Paramount Pictures in 2005. Though yielding such financial fruits as the Transformers franchise, DreamWorks reinvented itself as an independent production company and signed a deal to be distributed under Disney's Touchstone Pictures banner. The handful of films released under that deal last year mostly flourished, including The Help and Real Steel. This year's slate, however, has been much more barren. Beyond People, all that DreamWorks is giving Disney is Spielberg's anticipated Oscar contender Lincoln.

That diminished productivity heightens the commercial failings of People Like Us, making it part of a negative trend following last year's flop remake Fright Night and the somewhat underperforming War Horse. The DreamWorks-Touchstone deal gives Disney just 10% of the gross, which on People Like Us works out to a measly $1.24 million domestically (and around $3,700 from two foreign territories). Remember, this is the same Disney that has moved away from making films in favor of making events, a strategy that has backfired (John Carter, Mars Needs Moms, Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer's Apprentice) as many times as it hasn't. The DreamWorks deal covers 30 movies over 5 years, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out, with nothing under the agreement yet scheduled for next year.

Sam (Chris Pine) emerges as a "cool" uncle with his knowledgeable CD recommendations. Tattooed single mom, recovering alcoholic, and hotel bartender Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) unknowingly lets her half-brother deep into her life.

Less interesting but more relevant to this article is People Like Us, the feature directorial debut of Alex Kurtzman, a writer of television dramas ("Hercules: The Legendary Journeys", "Alias") who has had a hand in many a tentpole film script, including the first two Transformers, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, Cowboys & Aliens, and Mission: Impossible III. That sci-fi action background didn't make him the most obvious choice for this human tale billed as being "inspired by true events." Kurtzman shares screenplay credit with his writing partner Roberto Orci and newcomer Jody Lambert.

New Yorker protagonist Sam Harper (Chris Pine, Star Trek's Captain Kirk) is in the business of corporate overstock bartering, which has him helping businesses exchange excess product for something they need, taking a substantial commission in the process. That matters only enough to show the schmoozing lifestyle Sam will leave behind to go to California to attend the funeral of his estranged father. Sam and his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) miss their flight and the funeral over a faked forgotten wallet. Sam resents his music producer father and clearly doesn't want to be there to honor his passing, a fact that adds to the already palpable tension between Sam and his now widowed mother (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Sam's father's will bequeaths less than expected. Sam inherits his father's huge collection of vinyl records and a leather shaving kit bag. But rather than a razor and blades, the bag holds $150,000 in thick rolls of cash... and directions to deliver it to a single mother who it turns out is Dad's illegitimate daughter. Sam tracks down Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a recovering alcoholic bartender who has her hands full with her friendless troublemaker 11-year-old son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario). Posing as a fellow AA member, Sam repeatedly stages some chance encounters with both Frankie and Josh, not revealing his biological connection to either. The three bond a lot, with Sam sticking around in California, his thankless girlfriend returning home for law school interviews and his own employment in doubt amidst an FTC investigation of his business practices. The hidden truth looms perilously over this familial arrangement, waiting to undo all the good will that has quickly been built.

The newly-widowed, secretly ill Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) has reasons to be sad and moody. Shaggy haired Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario) is a boy.

Real life predicaments meet touchy feely movie melodrama here, with understandably frustrating results. The opening holds promise, as it subtly introduces us to this flawed protagonist, his inconceivable deception, and the strained relationship behind it. Early scenes resemble a Cameron Crowe movie and arguably the worst of those (Elizabethtown), but the resemblance still involves a distinctive dramedic voice, personal detail, and thoughtful music. Alas, subtlety soon runs out, allowing fiction, sentimentality, and product placement to run wild.
Adding insult is the movie's smug belief in its value as a kind of chicken soup for the soul. Sam becomes a mentor and musical guru to Josh (is there anything worse than when directors tell us the music they think is cool through a wise character?). The most reasonable explanation for this quick close bond -- romance between the two attractive, similarly aged singles -- is thrown out to remove any incestuous overtones. Fair enough, but it's tough to buy this mother and son otherwise letting this stranger into their lives so thoroughly and setting themselves up for the hurt of his ulterior motives.

Kurtzman had the chance to tell a moving story in a poignant way, but he relies too heavily on needle drops to instruct you how to feel, music references to show you how cool he is and contrived scenes to touch on certain beats. The performances by Pine and Banks are good, but never good enough to overcome the tacky, saccharine writing. It's like an independent movie polished into a PG-13 studio film worthy of wide release, foreseen as something to win over three generations of viewers with its big themes that apply to everyone. It repeatedly flirts with meaningfulness, but falls short, feeling too artificial and tidy to like. It swings for the fences and only barely gets onto first base.

Watching the movie doesn't clarify the title pronunciation, but "people similar to us" sounds more plausible than the Sally Field Oscar speech-esque alternative.

Its awards prospects non-existent with DreamWorks not even mounting a campaign, People Like Us hit home video a swift three months after its theatrical debut as a DVD and in the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo pack reviewed here.

People Like Us: Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.35:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English);
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


The Blu-ray's 2.35:1 picture and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio are both strong, supplying a lot of warm, sun-kissed visuals and flaring licensed non-mainstream songs.

First-time director Alex Kurtzman addresses his cast in "Number One with a Bullet." Secret half-siblings Sam and Frankie bond over tacos and Orange Bang in unused scene bits.


People Like Us gets an unusually high volume of bonus features on Blu-ray, all of which are presented in high definition.

First up is "Number One with a Bullet: The Story Behind People Like Us" (14:28), which shares the real experiences that inspired the script and then moves to production with B-roll and cast remarks and talk on Los Angeles shooting locations.

It's a little more thoughtful and sappier than the typical making-of featurette.

Next, we get two and a quarter audio commentaries. The first teams director/writer Alex Kurtzman with stars Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks. It is informative, but light and entertaining. They talk about casting, reshoots, the change from the shooting title Welcome to People, their characters, improvisations, hair, wardrobe, the battle with the studio to give Bank's character tattoos, dropping the title into their press answers, California winter nights, nostril flares, visual effects, background props, and Jay Leno. Interestingly, the rare bit of profanity, most from Banks, gets bleeped.

The second audio commentary pairs Kurtzman with his novice co-writer Jody Lambert. Naturally, their conversation focuses more on the story, which they worked on for eight years. The goals and influences they declare are sound, but the movie doesn't live up to them. The two talk about the cast, real-life elements incorporated into the screenplay, and the atypical Los Angeles locations shot. It's more self-congratulatory and less entertaining than the other track, and some of the same information is repeated.

That quarter audio commentary is a rare select scene commentary (35:17) by Kurtzman and Michelle Pfeiffer. Their non screen-specific thoughts, more like Kurtzman interviewing Pfeiffer, play over eight scenes from the film. I think more should opt for this format than struggling to fill a feature runtime of air.

"Taco Talk" (4:51) preserves unused material from the siblings' taco scene. Since the scene is already kind of cringeworthy as is, you can imagine how bad this deleted banter is.

Deleted scenes reveal that Olivia Wilde's part as the protagonist's marginalized girlfriend wasn't quite as thankless as it is in the final movie. Philip Baker Hall gets a moment on the DVD main menu's projected montage.

Five additional deleted/extended scenes (18:25) are presented with introductions by Kurtzman. Confirming the feeling that the thankless girlfriend role was abbreviated, Olivia Wilde features in three of these casualties. There's also a moment with Mark Duplass' underdeveloped character and a couple of climactic extensions, one of them painfully overlong. Strangely, no Jon Favreau cuts are here to explain his fourth poster/cover billing from little, meaningless, early screen time.

Things draw to a close with a reel of bloopers (3:54) consisting of the usual goofs, laughs, and unforeseen distractions.

Identical to the one sold on its own with a ludicrous "DVD" banner across its cover, the secondary disc here includes the Kurtzman and cast commentary and Kurtzman and Pfeiffer select scenes commentary, but none of the video extras.

At insertion, the discs reach back to open with a trailer for The Help, followed by a promo for ABC dramas and an anti-smoking spot. The Sneak Peeks listing plays ads for "Castle": The Complete Fourth Season and Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray.

The main menu evokes the film's finale by projecting film clips like home movies on a wall.

The plain silver and blue discs claim opposite sides of a standard, insert-less, side-snapped, slipcovered Blu-ray case.

This closing shot of the film, in which half-siblings Sam (Chris Pine) and Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) bond over an improbably joint home movie, intends to warm your heart and moisten your eyes.


People Like Us will make a big impression on some people who don't see a lot of movies. The more cinematically seasoned are likely to find it a contrived, artificial, and pale imitation of an indie drama. The upside of the moviegoing public overlooking this is that the film can now enjoy obscure status, being viewed with little expectation and as a result generating fairly decent word of mouth. If you're able to be swept up and moved as the film intends, I'm happy for you. The effort falls short of its marks for me, its mushy, manipulative, unrealistic nature overshadowing the nice moments and sentiments it stumbles upon.

The Blu-ray combo pack delivers high quality picture and sound, plus more bonus features than you'll probably have time for. No better edition will come, so if you like the film and plan to revisit it, this is your best way to do so. One viewing, however, may very well be more than enough for you.

Buy People Like Us from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD / DVD / Instant Video

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People Like Us Songs List: James Gang - "Funk #49", Foghat - "Helpin' Hand", Martin Haene - "Jamming Late at Night", Anthony Cossa, Jim "Runt" Miller, and Eileen O'Mara - "Truckasaurus", Accept - "Fast as a Shark", Charles Mingus - "Boogie Stop Shuffle", Eric Carmen - "Sunrise", Loose Fur - "The Ruling Class", Thomas East - "Sister Funk", The Clash - "Spanish Bombs", Mann - "Buzzin' , Chris Willis - "Louder (Put Your Hands Up)", Raphael Saadio - "Stone Rollin'", "Be Aggressive", Los Dos - "Te Espero", Bob Dylan - "Tangled Up in Blue", James Vincent McMorrow - "We Don't Eat", Liz Phair - "Dotted Line"

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Reviewed October 29, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Touchstone Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, K/O Paper Products, and Touchstone Home Entertainment.
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