** (out of four)
Close the nominations. Contest over. The worst musical score of 2012 goes to “People Like Us,” which delivers such manipulative twinkle-twinkle-jangle-string-section compositions that even the few moments of this melodrama that would have felt authentic turn to corny mush.
Cue the dramatic orchestration to express my discontent for composer A.R. Rahman (“Slumdog Millionaire”).
On the plus side, the movie’s two-star rating belongs almost exclusively to a four-star performance from Elizabeth Banks, breathing vibrant personality into a movie suffering from a major case of spell-out-absolutely-everything. Banks plays Frankie, single mom to 11-year-old Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario), who’s the sort of the kid that when a psychiatrist tells him to sit anywhere he sits in the doctor’s chair. When Josh nearly gets kicked out of school for causing an explosion, Banks’ swift transition from desperate defense to total-control offense perfectly embodies a woman whose vulnerability shuts off when it comes to protecting her son.
What Frankie doesn’t know is that her estranged and recently deceased father left Frankie and Josh $150,000. She doesn’t know because Frankie’s cowardly half-brother Sam (Chris Pine) waits and waits and waits to confess his identity when he strikes up a friendship with his sister, whome he only recently found out exists.
Director/co-writer Alex Kurtzman (“Cowboys and Aliens,” “Star Trek”) leaves us twiddling our thumbs until the big reveal as Sam’s girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) tells him, “You’re good at running away, you know,” Sam’s mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) breaks down and Sam feels torn between using the money to pay off his debt and realizing that Frankie and Josh could be the missing pieces to an unhappy family life.
All together now, “Awwww.”
That’s not being snarky. That’s feeling frustrated that a movie, mildly inspired by true events, could have confronted the desire to hold onto familial love in spite of flaws instead relies heavily on deception as a plot convenience. It’s all a manipulative drum-roll to the climactic, tear-jerking moment that oversimplifies other pending problems and reiterates that this tale of forgiveness commits storytelling sins too big to overlook.
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