Alex Kurtzman has an imposing list of writing and producing credits, mostly with his partner Roberto Orci, including such commercial hits as the Transformers movies, the reboot of Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible III… but for his directing debut (written with Orci and Jody Lambert) he has chosen an intimate story about a uniquely dysfunctional family, inspired by incidents in his own life. It’s the kind of anti-blockbuster I would love to champion, if it were only better.
Chris Pine plays a guy who lives on the edge in his business dealings, and has a loyal girlfriend in Olivia Wilde. Then he learns that his father has died, and grudgingly boards a plane for Los Angeles to attend the funeral. He hasn’t seen his father in years, and maintains an arm’s-length distance from his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). Then one of his dad’s oldest friends hands him a wad of money, left for him by his father with a terse note instructing him to pass it along to a woman and her son. It turns out his father had a second family. She’s a hard-working single mom, played by Elizabeth Banks, and she’s Pine’s half-sister.
That’s the setup for this drama, which the preview trailer would have you believe is a comedy. (If studios are so certain audiences won’t go to see a dramatic film—even a good one—why do they make them in the first place?)
Pine’s dilemma is that he doesn’t know how to explain who he is to Banks. In the course of this struggle, he builds a relationship with her and her rebellious young son. In time, he also begins to deal with his mother and tries to break down some walls between them. But as the movie becomes protracted, stretching almost to the two-hour mark, it loses not only its momentum but its credibility.
I’m not sure the co-writer of the interminable Transformers movies would be the first person to recognize that a film is running too long, or that compressing some story elements might strengthen them. I can’t imagine that this film wouldn’t have been considerably better if it moved at a brisker pace.
There’s one more problem that’s a bit awkward to confront. We all enjoy watching attractive performers on screen, but beautiful people are not necessarily the best choice when you’re trying to tell a story about “people like us” and their day-to-day problems. I don’t mean to deride the talents of Pine, Banks, Pfeiffer, or Wilde (who makes a conscious effort to look unglamorous), but you have to admit they make an exceptionally good-looking ensemble…too good-looking, perhaps, to give resonance to this material.