PEEP WORLD (2011)
Starring Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Ben Schwartz, Judy Greer, Kate Mara, Taraji P. Henson, Ron Rifkin, Lesley Ann Warren, Alicia Witt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Octavia Spencer, Paige Orr, Nicholas Hormann and the voice of Lewis Black.
Screenplay by Peter Himmelstein.
Directed by Barry W. Blaustein.
Distributed by IFC Films. 89 minutes. Rated R.
You can pick your friends, but not your family. So goes the old cliché, but it became ubiquitous enough to be a cliché simply because it is accurate.
Peep World – despite its vaguely racy title – is a variably comic and tragic story of one such extended family.
Actually the film is somewhat reminiscent of The Royal Tannenbaums and at the same time the TV series Arrested Development – a look at a large brood of siblings, mistreated and ignored by their father, a cold and hardened real estate tycoon. The kids have grown into their 30s and are all floundering in different ways – not that their father would notice.
However, they are all obligated to see the old man and his new younger girlfriend at a 70th birthday party.
While it is not a perfect film, Peep World actually does more with its situation than the too-quirky-for-its-own-good Tannenbaums. (Not hard to do, granted, Tannenbaums was so calculatedly low-key that it nearly evaporated on the screen.)
However, as can be seen by the stand-up heavy cast (even the film’s narration is done by a comedian, Lewis Black), Peep World does not take itself too seriously.
Yet, interestingly, the movie often works best as a drama. In fact, the single most uncomfortable plot tangent – having to do with one character’s problem with erectile dysfunction – was obviously meant to be funny. Sadly, it doesn’t work.
Many of the other comic threads do work, but Peep World sometimes feels like it is going out of its way to knock the Meyerwitz siblings down.
The main source of contention is a book. The youngest son, Nathan (Ben Schwartz) has used his family secrets as a road to success. He has written a best-selling novel (whose title, Peep World, also becomes the title of the film) in which he airs all of his family’s dirty laundry. He is back home for the first time since the book’s release for a book signing, and acts pretentiously and condescendingly towards a book publicist (Kate Mara) to mask his own insecurities.
The one reasonably responsible son is Jack (Michael C. Hall) – though he has his own set of quirks and secrets – who tries to hold together his brothers and sisters, despite the fact that they are each in the middle of some sort of meltdown. In the meantime, while Jack scrambles to keep the peace in his family, he’s also trying desperately to save his business and his marriage to Laura (Judy Greer). Also, he has a dirty little secret that he is horrified of anyone finding out.
The black sheep is Joel (Rainn Wilson), a low-rent lawyer who is always sponging off family and owes a huge amount to a local gangster. The sister is Cheri (Sarah Silverman), a bitchy and unsuccessful actress who is suing her brother for writing about her and by odd coincidence lives in an apartment right above the location where the movie version is being made. Then there is mom (Lesley Anne Warren), who loves her children but is finally just fed up with having to keep the peace between them and her ex-husband.
In the meantime, dad (Ron Rifkin) is a hard-assed business guy who is finally ready to settle down, having impregnated his much younger actress girlfriend (Alicia Witt) – who is ironically playing the role of Cheri in the Peep World movie.
As you can see, Peep World has more than its share of plot coincidences and occasionally tries too hard, however it does move smartly through most of the potential landmines before hitting its true stride. The last half-hour or so, in which the Meyerwitz clan must pretend nothing is wrong and get together for dad’s birthday party is a wonderfully funny and dramatic ballet of familial dysfunction and passive aggressive behavior.
For this section alone, Peep World is worth seeing, though there are many other parts leading up to it which also work very well. It’s just a shame that after such a wonderful third act, the actual ending is rather sudden and way too pat. It’s almost like after stirring everything up the filmmakers abruptly realized that they were in a narrative quandary and weren’t sure how to fix it, so they didn’t even bother to work their way out.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 25, 2011.