After wowing audiences earlier this year with her dead-on portrayal of the bizarre Effie Trinket in the smash dystopian thriller "The Hunger Games," actress Elizabeth Banks admits as she's getting ready for the release of her latest film "People Like Us" that she's still looking for a way to describe the feelings on playing the District 12 escort.

"There really are not words," Banks told me, laughing, in a recent interview. "To be embraced by so many people around the world -- it's a big thrill. I do this job to entertain people, so to entertain that many people is pretty exciting."

Banks is especially thrilled to have the chance to entertain people again, and in dramatic fashion, no less, in "People Like Us," the directorial debut of acclaimed screenwriter Alex Kurtzman.

Opening in theaters Friday, "People Like Us" strips away all the glam makeup, hair and fashion that defined Effie in "The Hunger Games" and bares the soul of a character that is easily Banks' most emotionally satisfying portrayal to date.

Chris Pine plays Sam in "People Like Us," a fast-talking, New York corporate hustler who, after his estranged father, Jerry, dies, reluctantly returns home to California to no more than put in appearance for the sake of his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer).

But instead of making a quick exit home with his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde), Sam, per his father's will, is tasked with delivering $150,000 in cash to Frankie (Banks) -- a half-sister he never knew he had.

Once Sam locates Frankie, he finds a way to befriend the struggling single mother, but doesn't have the heart to deliver the cash and tell her the truth about their father -- especially when Frankie reveals that Jerry was a big part of her life until he abandoned her mother and her when she was 8 years old.

Sam longs to tell Frankie who he really is, but is afraid if he reveals that his family is the reason he left, it will destroy any chance of the two siblings ever becoming a family.

Banks said while the Sam and Frankie's circumstances are a little more extraordinary in "People Like Us," audiences will empathize with their characters just the same.

"Even if you can't relate to this scenario, most people feel like their parents damaged them a little bit," Banks said, laughing. "It just goes along with the territory. You can either forgive your parents and recognize that they were doing the best they knew how in the circumstances they were in, or you don't. You don't need your past to determine your future. Hopefully you can move on with grace and forgiveness."

Mostly a drama with some humor mixed in, "People Like Us" marks somewhat a change in direction for Banks, who, before her work in "The Hunger Games," was mostly known for her work in comedies like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" and most recently, "What to Expect When You're Expecting."

"Frankie's a very, full and complex character, that's what I look for, always. Some of the characters I play just happen to have fewer layers," Banks said. "I'm always looking for characters that I can relate to and hook in to, and I recognized Frankie right away. I know a lot of struggling single moms, including my sister. But Frankie is somebody who is a survivor, has difficultly asking for help, and who's been disappointed by a lot of people in her life. I not only wanted, but needed, to tell her story."

Kurtzman told me in a separate interview that the reaction to Banks' portrayal has been strong, and said he couldn't be more thrilled for her.

"She brought so much of herself to that part -- she opened herself up in a way that was so rare and you feel it watching her on screen," Kurtzman said. "You feel that she is going through something extraordinary. Finding the role was hard for her -- some days on set were hard. I could see how deeply she was reaching into herself. It was the same thing with Chris, they both were really reaching in -- I don't think actors do that all the time."

In a time where remakes, reboots and rehashed storylines dominate the big screen, it's incredibly satisfying to see a film like "People Like Us" where, despite all guesses you can make, you can't exactly figure out how things are going to end up. True, you can certainly root for the characters to go in the same direction, but you can never imagine how they could possibly get there.

The final moments of the film, which won't be revealed here, make for one of the best film endings of the year, if not years.

"It was surprising to me when I read the script -- I kept thinking, 'How are they going to resolve this?'" Banks observed. "It's one of the great messages in life. We all have a daddy, and we all hope that daddy loves us. And in this movie we get an answer for answer for them -- the solace that they've been seeking the entire time. It really is a beautiful ending."

While the Banks and her cast mates play a big part of the story that brings the audience to the film's conclusion, the actresses couldn't compliment enough the writing prowess of Kurtzman, who co-scripted the film with frequent collaborator Roberto Orci (they co-wrote "Star Trek" and "Transformers," among many others) and their college friend Jody Lambert.

Banks said the outcome of the film shows audiences how important a great screenplay is, thanks to the many vital elements that are artfully woven within "People Like Us" -- a story all people can relate to.

"I feel the ending to this movie -- and I don't use this word lightly or often -- it's very cathartic," Banks said. "Catharsis goes back to the Greeks and the great writing of their plays. You want to go to a theater and have a communal experience that's recognizable to everyone in the audience, and you have what I like to call 'a good cry.'"

"This movie is truly cathartic," Banks added. "If you have any sort of family issues, parent issues or daddy issues, this is something that is really affecting. It's really moving."