Making the Grades
In a recent post, an advice columnist replied to a young person who discovered his father’s infidelity. She wrote, “This is your parents’ business, not yours.—It’s best forgiven and forgotten by you.”
I have to disagree. Marital cheating impacts more than the adults involved and if ever there were an argument against being unfaithful, People Like Us is it.
Record producer Jerry Harper may be resting peacefully in his grave, but his life decisions continue to haunt those he left behind. Among the damaged mourners are his wife Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) and his estranged son Sam (Chris Pine). Inheriting his father’s extensive record collection seems like poor compensation for the young, fast-talking businessman who grew up with a distracted, distant dad. He was at least hoping for some cold, hard cash to help bail him out of his crushing debt. Instead his dad’s lawyer (Philip Baker Hall) hands Sam a shaving kit filled with wads of $100 bills and a note from his father instructing him to take the money to some kid he’s never heard of.
It turns out Sam has a sister.
Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), he discovers, is a struggling single mother with a precocious 11-year-old son named Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) who just blew up the school’s swimming pool. Unsure how to introduce himself, Sam avoids that little nugget of truth. But this family’s penchant for lying hasn’t led to anything good in the past, nor will it now.
This adult drama may be one of the first films to explore infidelity from the point of view of the children and isn’t always pretty. Secrets, emotional avoidance and abandonment are the foundations this family is built on. Moving beyond them is painful and sometimes overplayed with sentiment. Whlle the characters’ growth is admirable, many of the activities they engage in aren’t.
Discovering his father’s medicinal marijuana, Sam deals with his disappointment by smoking the drug and consuming copious amounts of his dad’s liquor (in an extended scene). Later, in what is meant to be a bonding moment, Sam and his mother share another joint. Dealing with her own emotional distress, Frankie turns to her downstairs neighbor (Mark Duplass) for some quick, casual sex. And along with several sexually-charged comments about his babysitter (Gabriela Milla), Josh spouts off with a strong sexual expletive then takes his frustrations out on a classmate by pummeling him in the face with a textbook.
Based loosely on the life experiences of Director Alex Kurtzman ( Star Trek, Transformers, Mission Impossible III), this script follows a family whose dysfunctional history seems destined to be repeated unless they chose to leave the past behind.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about People Like Us.
Why has lying become such an ingrained part of this family that Sam’s mom even hides her cookies? How does dishonesty hurt their ability to be emotionally present for one another? How does the father’s infidelity individually impact everyone involved?
Is the depiction of Josh realistic? Why do some children in single parent homes take on more adult roles? What support does Frankie get from her neighbors? How does Frankie’s self-esteem impact the way she sees her possibilities for the future? Why do we often carry childhood disappointments with us into adulthood? What substances and activities does Frankie use to deal with her past?
What age demographic is this film aimed at? Do adults at some point have to leave behind the negative aspects of their past in order to create a better future? Is their past something Sam and Frankie should be able to move on from? How can they use their newfound relationship to help them? What role might Sam’s mother play in their relationship?