Transformers co-writer Alex Kurtzman explored the relationships between extraterrestrial clans back in 2007 and now he has revisited the theme with humans for his directorial debut, People Like Us. The drama is based on the premise that all families have skeletons in the closet, and that sometimes going to war against siblings is the only way to keep secrets.

Sam (Chris Pine), an ethically bankrupt salesman with the Feds on his case, reluctantly jets home to Los Angeles with his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) for the funeral of his estranged music producer father. On his travels, he discovers that his old man has left him a wad of cash to be secretly delivered to the half-sister he never knew he had.

She turns out to be Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a single mum and recovering alcoholic who has a demanding 11-year-old son called Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario). As Sam attempts to hide the secret from his grieving mother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer), he finds himself contributing to the web of lies.

Elizabeth Banks plays the part of the struggling, hard-done-by mother to perfection. She delivers an emotionally engaging performance where she shows the character's vulnerable and feisty sides. Chris Pine is equally good in his role as Sam. Despite his character’s initial shortcomings, he manages to remain likeable throughout the film.

While Michelle Pfeiffer offers superb support, most of Olivia Wilde’s lines appear to have been left on the cutting room floor. Jon Favreau’s cameo as Sam’s boss almost goes unnoticed and fails to make any worthwhile impact.

It may have been his feature-film debut, but Josh D’Addario’s performance as the angst-ridden tween is overbearing at times – especially in his scenes with the therapist.

It’s never adequately explained why Sam can’t tell his long-lost half-sibling that they are related, which leads to some awkward mixed signals on Frankie’s part.

While People Like Us sounds like an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show, Kurtzman does a terrific job of bringing the phrase 'life's too short' to the fore from the sentimental script. There's more to this compelling drama than meets the eye.

Laura Delaney