Peep World (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
21Jul/110

Peep World (2011)

Someone is going to stumble onto Peep World and it may become their favorite movie.  There's enough good material in here for someone to confuse it with a quality product.  The problem is that Peep World where's its influences so broadly on its shoulders that it's very difficult to discern where anyone thought they were making an original or interesting product.

That's not really a slam against the film per se.  Hobbling together pieces of better known or executed source material in a new or intriguing fashion has long been the play realm of art.  But Peep World is in that thoroughly mined sub-genre of late 90's to early 00's independent known as the dysfunctional quirky family with nary an idea of how to distinguish itself from it's clear influence, The Royal Tenenbaums.

There's the long suffering matriarch (Lesley Ann Warren), the dominating patriarch (Ron Rifkin), the somewhat self-defeating daughter (Sarah Silverman), the perpetually nervous son (Rainn Wilson), the other quietly imploding son (Michael C. Hall), and - for the twist of originality - the successful but also neurotic son (Ben Schwartz).  Every single one of those performers is currently attached, or has been attached, to the most critically acclaimed television of the last ten years.  This is partly where Peep World's other big influence, Arrested Development, makes it's marks apparent.

Peep World tries to go for a fly on the wall documentarian approach in it's camerawork (a la Arrested) to capture the implosion of this supposedly talented Jewish family.  I would like to confirm that talent but despite the presence of an actress, architect, author and entrepreneur Peep World doesn't really display any of their talents (on of the nice touches included in Tenenbaums).  Instead we open on the family having an angry dinner then flashing back 18 hours to see how they ended up this way.

Rainn Wilson is adorable and nicely paired with the sadly obscured, but always excellent, Taraji P. Henson.

Why the flashback?  To establish obviously, and quickly, that the family is dysfunctional before we even get to know any of them.  Given how obvious their distaste is for one another it's an unnecessary beginning and would have been better spent just getting to know the family more.  The young author of the family has penned a book airing out all their dirty secrets so a bit of allusion to the issues prior to the explosion might have generated a sufficient air of interest in their problems.

But no one is really that interesting.  Silverman's actress isn't very good and her performance equals her characters abilities - all chest clutching and screaming.  The director, Barry W. Blaustein, can't really do much with her but the performances he gets out of Ron Rifkin and Michael C. Hall.  They are so tonally off to the rest of the film that they must have thought they were back in a far more serious drama instead of a movie where Silverman hangs out in a club "Jews For Christ".

No one is aided by the presence of Lewis Black as a narrator.  It's never really established what, or who, he is supposed to be in relation to these people.  He's not a wry commentator, nor a sadly knowing observer of the families issues.  Instead he's a dry exposition delivery system intoning each of his lines in such a way that suggests he knows how funny is supposed to work but constrained by the families "tragic" dysfunction.

For all it's faults, Peep World had me in absolute stitches every time Ben Schwartz was left alone to fill the screen with his insecure ego.

It's not all wrong though.  Rainn Wilson and Ben Schwartz (Dwight and Jean-Ralphio of The Office and Parks and Recreation - respectively) are old pros at the pseudo-documentary game and are able to blend their characters with the right amount of empathy and disappointment.  It's doubly impressive considering the sub-plots they're given (mob debts and erectile dysfunction) actually work because of how finely tuned their performances are to the characters.  Schwartz, in particular, has a hilarious scene blending  physical comedy and embarrassment at a reading.  They are almost worth recommending the movie for.

But Peep World is not the sum of those two excellent parts.  It's an issue of blending.  Lofty is the best word to describe a film that draws it's inspiration from two of the most original works of film and television in recent years.  But there's no blending, Tenenbaums attained real sadness by giving literary weight to it's characters and Development pushed the surreality farther and farther until it attained comic sense.  Those are two different worlds, veering madly between them in the same movie is almost impossible.

Except for Silverman (whom I can only give credit this time because I didn't laugh and it was supposed to be this way) the cast is uniformly excellent, even if they're playing in different movies.  I have to give the cast and crew points for trying something marginally different.  Falling short of Tenenbaums isn't a horrible thing, especially since it could have used Running With Scissors as a starting point.

Peep World (2011)
Directed by Barry W. Blaustein.
Screenplay by Peter Himmelstein.
Starring  Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson and Ben Schwartz.

Posted by Andrew

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