3 Stars – Challenging

Most families have secrets.  These vary in a variety of ways from simple regrets that are not revealed to other family members, to partial cover-ups in which the facts are known to some but not discussed with others, to complete secrets known only to the person(s) involved.  But in those instances where a father has multiple families kept secret from one another, the effects of such a deception is difficult to measure.  Such is the story brought to this film by the writing team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.  Known more for action films such as Cowboys and Aliens and Transformers, they brought the dramatic expertise of Jody Lambert to their team.  The result is the powerful drama People Like Us in which Kurtzman debuts as a director.

Based on true events in Kurtzman’s own life, he and his best friend, Orci, took over eight years to write the screenplay and never expected the film to be made.  But as they developed the story and the characters came to maturity, they realized it was a narrative worthy of being seen.

The casting is superb.  From the disarming smiles to the familial resemblance, we are convinced that we are seeing real events being unveiled in a believable though sometimes overly dramatic manner.  The ensemble cast begins with Sam (Chris Pine) who is as much a conman as a businessman.  When his father dies we are introduced to his mother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).  Having become estranged from his family, we walk the journey toward understanding with him as secrets become known. 

When his father dies, he leaves Sam his record collection and a shaving kit. Sam opens it to find $150,000 in cash with a note saying to use it to take care of a boy named Josh Davis (Michael Hall D’Addario) and his address is given.  Thinking to keep the money for himself, he nevertheless goes to the address to find out who this person is and soon discovers that he has a sister named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and Josh is her son.  Shocked to discover that his father had a second family, Josh begins a long and tumultuous journey. 

The double-bond that defines adultery causes deep and enduring pain in families.  When a child results from such an affair, then the heart is doubly torn.  This film presents such pain in authentic and compelling ways.  That love can overcome broken relationships and forgiveness can be found in the most difficult of circumstances is a clear message.  And, as the title implies, it is just such love and forgiveness that makes us “people” in the best sense of the word.

Discussion for those who have seen this film:

1. Without betraying the confidential information of your own family, what has been the impact of keeping secrets?  Do you think a family should share all its stories or is it better to keep some things within the family?  What determines what should be shared and what kept confidential?

2. If you discovered that your father had a second family, how would you feel?  What would you do?

3. When families work through the truth of difficult experiences, they are often stronger than they were when those secrets were kept.  Do you believe this is always true?  Why or why not?

Posted on January 26, 2014 and filed under 3 STARS, CHALLENGING.