Dir. Alex Kurtzman, USA, 2012, 114 mins
Review by Carol Allen
Structured like a classic rom com – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again – Kurtzman’s story is however about a very different sort of relationship. That between a young man and the half sister he never knew he had. The inspiration for the tale came from Kurtzman’s own life, when he finally got in touch with his half sister from his father’s previous marriage – but the script he has written has moved a long way from that initial idea.
Sam (Pine) is a sharp, fast talking salesman, adept at dodgy deals and deeply in debt. When his father dies, he reluctantly goes home for the funeral, for which he is late, where he is forced to reconnect with his mother (Pfeiffer) from whom he’s been estranged for many years. To his disappointment his father, who was a bit of a hippie and a none too successful record producer, hasn’t left him any money – just his huge vinyl record collection and a shaving bag. Inside that though is $150,000 in cash and an instruction to deliver it to a young woman, Frankie (Banks), whom Sam then discovers is his older sister from his dad’s previous relationship.
As a story this is refreshingly different from the Hollywood norm. It also has engaging performances from Pine and particularly Banks, as Frankie, a reformed alcoholic, who is struggling financially to bring up her young son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario). Josh is a bit of a handful – bright as a button but with a tendency to go in for destructive pranks such as blowing up the school swimming pool.
Kurtzman and his long time co-writer Roberto Orco have a strong track record as screenwriters on big films such as Star Trek and Transformers and though this film has been made as a small independent movie and is a bit of a labour of love, their previous experience as commercial writers comes through in the writing, not always to the film’s benefit. The most glaring example is the way Sam fails for most of the film to reveal to Frankie that he is her brother. The only excuse for this is the temptation for him to keep the money, but it feels like an artificial plot device to keep the story going and there are times when the script feels as though it is sticking like glue to the plot twist rules of screenwriting gurus such as Robert McKee and Sid Field. Two of the most interesting characters are Pfeiffer as Lillian, Sam’s mother, who lights up the screen, and the dead father, whom we never actually see – it would have been good to have done so. But Hollywood received wisdom dictates that older characters don’t sell tickets, so the spotlight must remain on the young ones.
However Pine and Banks are, as I say, very watchable, as is young D’Addario and Olivia Wilde as Sam’s girlfriend Hannah. And all praise to Kurtzman in his first film as director for having the courage to use his previous commercial success to make a film with an original storyline and something which is close to his heart.