People Like Us and other films in real-world settings

Now he has directed People Like Us.

Written by New York Times | Published:June 17, 2012 3:03 am

Alex Kurtzman has written films about space travel (Star Trek),space robots (Transformers) and creatures who descend on the Old West from outer space (Cowboys & Aliens). Now he has directed People Like Us. It is not about outer space but about family life in contemporary America.

“People want to see themselves represented on screen in real ways,not just fantasy,” Kurtzman said. His film is one in a small cluster of pictures that will try to defy modern economic forces in the movie industry; they will bring realistic stories about recognisable characters in a familiar world to major studio schedules,at the height of the summer blockbuster season.

Last year Hollywood’s top 20 domestic box office performers included just two movies The Help and Bridesmaids—with realistic stories about U.S. life,according to boxofficemojo.com. The rest were fantasies,like Thor,or abroad,like The Hangover Part II.

In 1992,by contrast,15 of the 20 best-selling US films were rooted in realistic,if sometimes twisted,U.S. Experiences: Sister Act,Lethal Weapon 3,A League of Their Own,Unforgiven. By 2010,pressure to generate international sales,which now account for about 70 percent of Hollywood’s worldwide ticket revenue,had pushed the simple portrayal of US lives almost completely off the big studio schedules in summer releases.

“They’ve ceded the cultural mirror role to TV,” said Martin Kaplan,a professor of entertainment,media and society at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California,referring to the studios’ diminishing taste for films that reflect the home audience. “Shows like South Park,Family Guy and Modern Family are where Americans now go to try to figure out who we are.” Still,this summer’s studio films will stick a little closer to home.

On June 29 Disney and DreamWorks will release Kurtzman’s film,with Chris Pine,Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Pfeiffer among its stars. Written with Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert,People Like Us is set in present-day Los Angeles. Its protagonist is a young man who comes to terms with the secret second family of his dead father.

Similarly set in the Los Angeles rock scene but in the 1980s,is Rock of Ages with Tom Cruise as a famous rock star who gets involved with two aspiring young singers pursuing their dreams. Then there’s Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike,with Channing Tatum in a Florida story about male strippers. Also coming,That’s My Boy,a domestic comedy with Adam Sandler.

Soderbergh described Warner’s decision to acquire rights to Magic Mike as “bold moves,in my view.” Typically,though,big studios have been wary of projects without obvious foreign elements or culture-spanning fantasy themes. Domestic stories like The Social Network and Moneyball have often been consigned to the year-end awards season,when box office expectations are usually lower.

But even there,it can be tough going. For the past four years the best picture Oscar has gone to films—The Artist,The King’s Speech,The Hurt Locker and Slumdog Millionaire—with stories,settings or actors and filmmakers from abroad. That films like People Like Us are squeezed in between fantasies like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,and The Amazing Spider-Man,owes something to last year’s The Help,Kurtzman said.

That film,about personal struggles with racial bias in the South,became a surprise hit,after Disney and DreamWorks released it in August.

There’s also a growing hunger among viewers of his own generation for studio-level pictures that are a shade less fantastic and more like his own favourite films from Soderbergh,James Brooks or Cameron Crowe. All of them have told stories rooted in dilemmas that viewers could readily recognise as their own.

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