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January 3, 2013

'People Like Us' is worth watching

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — Probably the worst place you can watch a movie is in an airplane. The picture is bad, the sound is bad and usually the movie is bad as well. Even if it’s one that you want to see, the sound is garbled and you inevitably have a seat where you suffer a pinched nerve from having to crane your neck. It’s the perfect trifecta and then some. How many people actually look forward to watching an in-flight movie?

I mention this phenomenon because I had an unusual experience on a flight recently. I actually saw a film that wasn’t half-bad despite all the drawbacks. It didn’t hurt that I had an unplanned aisle seat when I normally take a window. It’s one of those unexplained situations, possibly due to the airline changing the aircraft, where you don’t end up with the seat you request.

One advantage to the aisle seat is that you have a more direct view of the screen rather than the angled view of the window seat which equates to looking at a battery operated TV on the beach with the glare of the sun. It helps if the screen (which the airplane has every five rows) is in the row in front of you.

Otherwise you might need binoculars. Fortunately I was in the perfect position. So far, so good.

The movie in question was one I probably saw previews of but made no impression on me. It was called “People Like Us” and from the description in the in-flight magazine sounded like it had promise.

Inspired by a “true” story (I assume that means that 10 percent of the story actually happened), a young man with business problems returns home for his estranged father’s funeral and to take care of his effects. It is there that he discovers he has a sister he never knew about.

To understand why I was intrigued by this plot line you must remember I was on a six-hour flight and thought a half-decent film might be a nice break from reading and crossword puzzles. Chatting with your neighbor is out these days because they’re either sleeping or playing games on their smartphone.

Considering my options, how one reacts to discovering he has a 30-year-old sister suddenly provided some fascination on a long flight.

There are four main characters in the film, three adults and one kid. The kid was a newbie but the adults looked familiar. One I eventually recognized as an older Michelle Pfeiffer but the other two I later had to look up on Wikipedia. The guy returning for the funeral is Chris Pine, the young Jim Kirk in the latest Star Trek films, and his mom is played by the still gorgeous Pfeiffer. You discover very quickly how dysfunctional the family is when Pfeiffer greets Pine by slapping his face. No wonder Pine’s character doesn’t want to be there.

When Pine discovers he has a half-sister (played by Elizabeth Banks) due to an affair his estranged father had he thinks even worse of him. He tells his girlfriend that the only “good” memory of his dad is his taking him to the playground as a kid, but even then his father would retreat to his car to work on his professional music writings. Pine has absolutely no use for him.

When Pine finds out he has a sister, who has no idea she has a brother, he seeks her out without telling her that he’s her brother. It turns out she has a dysfunctional life and is raising a dysfunctional son as a single, dysfunctional mom. By this time I’m beginning to wonder if the film is becoming too dysfunctional for my tastes.

It becomes even more frustrating after Pine and Banks eventually become friends because you’re left wondering why Pine’s character just doesn’t tell Banks that they’re related. I assume it’s because by doing such a logical thing there would be no plot to exploit and the story would take only five minutes instead of two hours. Perhaps in the real life story he told her right away. If so, the movie sounds like a prime example of artistic license on steroids.

The funny thing after all this criticism is that I give “People Like Us” a thumb’s up. If you can deal with the corny scenes and the lack of common sense, the ending makes up for everything and then some.

It has a twist to it that I didn’t see coming that turns what appeared to be another typical Hollywood dysfunctional theme movie into something worth watching.

Not by coincidence we have the DVD of the movie in-house. If I can put up with what appeared to be a weak plot line with poor sound quality on a small screen and still come out impressed there must be something to it. The movie made my flight and that’s not an easy thing to do.

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at co.david@4cls.org.