Sam is a quick talker who knows his way around the inside of a scam. In fact, that's what makes him a perfect frontman for Allied Trade and Barter. It's a company that's all about the ins and outs of the shady deal. Of course, that's also why they've got the Federal Trade Commission nipping at their heels.
Sam has to put that annoyance on the back burner, though, for at least a day or two. He's got another hassle to deal with: his father's funeral. It's not that there's anything for him to do other than show up, but that's a big enough pain all on its own. He's stayed well clear of home while his record producer father was dying of cancer. Going back now to face his mom probably isn't going to be sweet.
And … it isn't.
Worse, though, is a meeting with his father's attorney. Sam was still hoping for maybe a little something from his estranged pop's estate. But all he gets is the old man's vinyl record collection. Oh, and his toiletry bag.
Might as well see what odds and ends are inside and get on with his life, Sam figures. And that's when he discovers a shady deal of his father's that takes shady-savvy Sam completely by surprise. The bag is filled will $150,000-worth of rolled up hundreds. But that cash isn't for Sam. No, no. There's also a note revealing that not-so-dear-old dad had a second family squirreled away somewhere.
It seems Sam has a sister.
And he's gotta find her.
That's his father's last wish, that Sam find his sister/stranger and give her the cache of cash. Sam being who Sam is, he's thinking he'll just thumb his nose at the dead man's wishes and keep the dough for himself. But then his curiosity gets the best of him. He seeks out his single-mom sibling, Frankie—and finds himself identifying with her and all the life handicaps they have in common. He befriends her son, Josh, becoming something of a father figure for the troubled kid. And before you know it, Sam finds himself longing for the human connections he's always run away from.
Sam expresses his desire to go straight, work hard and "dig himself out" from under his FTC troubles. Josh is set to steal a CD until Sam stops him. When Frankie finds out about a bunch of Sam's deceptions, she asks him, "How am I ever supposed to trust you?" But he apologizes and assure her that she can, "Because we're family, and family makes mistakes. … Let me be your brother."
In the course of things, Sam and his mom reconcile, too. She reveals that she knew about the "other family," and that she forced Sam's dad to abandon them to protect Sam. That plan didn't work out the way she wanted, however. It instead drove wedges between Sam and his dad and everyone else involved. But the movie stresses that emotional and relational healing can take place when loving choices and open communication prevail … even if it's after loving choices and open communication don't prevail.
For all her flaws and all the foolish behavior of her youth, Frankie ends up becoming a dedicated, loving and self-sacrificing mother. In fact, she intimates that it was because of her love for her son, and the responsibility of taking care of him, that she was forced to grow up and start thinking right. With her father's money, Frankie begins taking classes in hopes of jumpstarting a better life for herself.
Sam's girlfriend, Hannah, is a giving, tenderhearted soul who regularly goes the extra mile to express her love and support for Sam and his mom. Sam tells Josh that no matter what trouble life sends, he should never run from it, but always "lean into it." "The outcome doesn't matter," he tells the boy. "What matters is that you were there for it. Whatever it is. Good or bad."
A funeral and an AA meeting are held at two different churches. A biker wears a T-shirt emblazoned with "God Is Love." While watching a beautiful sunset, Frankie jokingly quips, "Yeah, God, is this the best you got?"
Working as a bartender, Frankie regularly wears tight, low-cut outfits to grab the tipping male patrons' attention. Elsewhere, we also see her dressed in a T-shirt and panties. At one point, she restlessly goes down to a neighbor's apartment, pulls up her skirt and has quick sex with him on a living room table. (We see more than enough to get the point.) Frankie tells Sam of her former days full of random sexual pickups.
When Sam first approaches Josh, the boy presumes him to be a molesting "pervert" and threatens to bite him if he tries to grab his genitals. Josh later talks about a neighbor girl who regularly goes braless, calling her caliente, and referencing masturbating over her. Sam tells Frankie about being in a high school rock band called the "Technical Virgins." Frankie replies that she was in a cheerleading squad that carried the same name.
Sam and Frankie tell stories about their father's wandering eye and sexual appetites. And it comes out that Frankie's mom was one of his "groupies." We hit up against a "Musicians do it …" joke. Sam's mother says she used to get aroused while smoking weed.
[Spoiler Warning] Still clueless that Sam is her brother, Frankie moves in to embrace and kiss him. It's clear that she's offering herself sexually … and it's this act that prompts Sam to finally reveal the shocking truth.
That truth causes Frankie to fly into a rage at his thoughtlessness, and she batters him about the face with her fists. When Sam first shows up at his mother's house, she greets him with a vicious slap. Several boys push and shove Josh at school. And he hits one kid in the face with a book, breaking his nose. He also drops a large lump of sodium in the school pool, blowing out part of the concrete in a violent explosion. A very disturbed Sam drives his father's car at reckless speeds and just barely avoids a crash.
Crude or Profane Language
It should be noted that young Josh is a rather foul-mouthed kid. And that it is he who voices the single f-word here. Other profanities include about 20 s-words and multiple uses of "d‑‑n," "a‑‑" and "h‑‑‑." Sam's dad is referred to as a "d‑‑k" and a "pr‑‑k" on several occasions. "Jesus" and "Christ" are both misused a couple times, along with a half-dozen interjections of "oh my god."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Sam has a drink on the plane while flying to his dad's funeral. And once he gets there, he starts drinking pretty regularly. His dad's attic studio comes stocked with many bottles of alcohol and a cabinet full of prescription drugs. Sam uses said stash to get totally blitzed, availing himself of the booze and the medical marijuana. His mom joins him in puffing on a joint.
A lawyer drinks a martini. Frankie, Sam and others smoke cigarettes. Sam downs aspirin for a hangover. He trails Frankie to an AA meeting where she seeks support because of her depressed feelings over her estranged father's death. "I feel numb," she tells the group. "Why is it I want five dirty martinis?" (Through all her struggles, however, Frankie never succumbs to those alcoholic temptations.) Patrons at a bar hold glasses and bottles of beer and wine.
Other Negative Elements
Beyond lying to Frankie and Josh, Sam also lays fibs on Hannah and his mom. Sam's boss admits that he intends to bribe a government official.
When a psychologist asks Frankie to tell her some good things about her son, Frankie blurts out, "Is this a trick question?"
When a studio invests time and money into creating a tale with solid things to say about the joyful rewards of good family choices and relationships, I, as a writer for Plugged In, a Focus on the Family publication, am generally the first to stand up and applaud. That's especially true when that pic also features some strong, emotionally accessible acting, and a story that keeps you connected and hoping for a happy ending.
On the other hand, as that Plugged In reviewer, I have other duties to fulfill, too. So before I do my clapping, let me make sure to stress that this PG-13 film about family isn't actually a family film. It's more of an adult rumination on how bad parenting and stupid personal choices can really mess up everyone around you. This is a film that's peppered with foul language, longwinded deceit, heavy drinking, and examinations—onscreen and off—of some pretty selfish and foolish behavior.
Frankie, for instance, talks of how her longing for an absentee father helped push her into a drunken lifestyle of pointless, random sexual encounters in between wasted blackouts. It's a pattern that eventually gave her a fatherless son of her own.
I can cheer the changes we see in Sam (the cocksure but connectionless scammer), Frankie (the pretty but thinly stretched ex-drunk) and Josh (the troubled, obnoxious kid in need of a father figure). There are poignant lessons taught and strong warnings given. But I'm duty bound to emphasize that the trip to that final hoorah isn't always as cute and carefree as this flick's teaser trailer might make it seem.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Elizabeth Banks as Frankie; Chris Pine as Sam; Olivia Wilde as Hannah; Michelle Pfeiffer as Lillian; Michael Hall D'Addario as Josh
June 29, 2012
Bob Hoose Bob Hoose