No gimmicks, quirks or high-concept premise: this is one of those rare, quietly engaging films that is simply about ordinary people trying to relate to each other. Chris Pine delivers his most layered performance yet as a particularly flawed individual confronted with shocking home truths that provoke some laughter and some pain in a story taken from real life.
He plays Sam, a salesman who could pack his morals in a briefcase and still have room for the Yellow Pages, and apparently just as lacking in emotional depth. After a crooked deal brings the threat of legal action, he receives news of his father's death with barely a flicker and purposefully misses the flight that will take him back to LA for the funeral.
Michelle Pfeiffer performs a tricky balancing act as Sam's mother, making her resentment known when he finally does turn up and at the same time, trying to reach out to him. The reason for his frostiness becomes apparent just before the point that he becomes intolerable - griping because all he inherited was a bunch of vinyl records. As it happens, his dad was a music producer and a cheat.
But the first indication that Sam might be worth sticking with is his decision not to make off with the loot. Instead he tracks down his sibling Frankie (a steely Elizabeth Banks) to an AA meeting where he learns that she is raising an 11-year-old son (Michael D'Addario), alone.
It's through the boy that Sam ingratiates himself with Frankie and - albeit in a contrived way - with the audience too. But Frankie is still a tough nut to crack, hardened by previous disappointments including a father who abandoned her to stay with his first wife and kid. Sam doesn't have the nerve to tell her that he is that firstborn child and a certain amount of weirdness begins to set in.
With all the dewy-eyed looks that are cast in her direction, Frankie assumes that Sam has romance on his mind. To his credit writer-turned-director Alex Kurtzman resists playing the situation for laughs, but the initial awkwardness stretches through the middle of the film and becomes almost unbearable, largely because Sam seems improbably oblivious to the effect he is having.
An atmosphere of dread builds with the knowledge that Frankie could have the rug pulled out from under her at any moment and a morbid sense of fascination keeps you watching, but this becomes a distraction from deeper, emotional complications that also affect Sam's relationship with Lillian. These are finally bundled together in a pat resolution, which is frustrating, though the actors are able to smooth over these wrinkles in the script with a firm grasp of who they are and how they got there.