Judge Clark Douglas once opened a marshmallow cafe named Peep World.
All your family's dirty secrets…now a bestseller!
"You all hate me, don't you?"
Facts of the Case
Henry Meyerwitz (Ron Rifkin, Alias) is a wealthy businessman. He has four children, all of whom dislike him intensely. Jack (Michael C. Hall, Dexter) is the responsible one, an architect with a frequently irritable wife (Judy Greer, Arrested Development) and a child on the way. Cheri (Sarah Silverman, The Sarah Silverman Show) is a spoiled would-be actress who is dating a particularly enthusiastic member of Jews for Jesus (Stephen Tobolowsky, Glee). Joel (Rainn Wilson, The Office) is the slobbish, financially irresponsible black sheep of the family who is dating a kind-hearted police officer (Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Nathan (Ben Schwartz, Undercovers) is a successful writer who spends much of his time thinking of ways to be condescending to his attractive assistant (Kate Mara, 127 Hours).
Every year, the four siblings begrudgingly throw their father a lavish birthday party (though Jack is the one who ends up footing the bill every time). It's rarely a very pleasant experience, but this year's gathering is made even more tense by the fact that Nathan has written a book that exposes the private lives and dirty little secrets of all of his siblings. Needless to say, it's going to be a long and unpleasant dinner.
I've reviewed quite a few films at this point, and Peep World never comes close to landing near the top or the bottom of the pile. However, it's been a while since I sat through a film that made me this irritable. Peep World is a film about a group of loathsome, self-absorbed characters engaging in a series of irritating, unfunny conflicts. That a cheeky narrator (a typically blustery Lewis Black) is on hand to casually mock these characters somehow only makes the affair even more irritating, and the wacky musical score that practically screams "This is HILARIOUS AND QUIRKY!" under every scene nearly makes Peep World unbearable.
Peep World is derivative of many films and television shows, but the problem is that it feels like an inferior version of all of them. Its dysfunctional family set-up offers shades of everything from Little Miss Sunshine (which boasted a considerably better dinner table set piece) to The Royal Tenenbaums (which featured a vastly more interesting much-loathed patriarch) to Hannah and Her Sisters (which was wiser, funnier and featured relatable characters). More than anything, it's reminiscent of Arrested Development, if the clever narration that highlights that series was pointlessly obvious and if the self-absorbed characters were gratingly shrill rather than gleefully entertaining.
Running a scant 79 minutes, the film often feels like an extended pilot for a crappy Showtime series. The cast is a terrific mix of talented television pros, but no one is capable of elevating the material into something enjoyable. The subplots they're handed range from dull to awful: the best is the storyline involving Jack's personal frustrations (made mildly engaging by Hall's mercifully low-key, credible performance in a film in which often seems like an overacting contest), while the worst is the cringe-inducing, sitcom-ish storyline involving Nathan's inability to get rid of a massive erection after undergoing a medical procedure intended to cure his premature ejaculation problems. The latter saga is even more wretched than the similar storyline in Little Fockers, which I wouldn't have thought possible.
Part of what makes the film so frustrating is that it refuses to fully commit to anything. Potentially comic scenes are diffused by humorless drama, while serious moments are undercut significantly by nervous retreats into cutesy humor. During the film's final moments, there's a touching monologue by Wilson that perhaps ranks as the film's best scene. It's a sincere, lovely moment, but then we get a crummy joke from Silverman and a terrible bit of snarky closing narration from Black. The end credits roll and the wacky music kicks into full gear again. Oh, how I wanted to throw a tomato.
Peep World arrives on Blu-ray sporting a perfectly respectable 1080p/2.35:1 transfer. Detail is sturdy throughout, though the film isn't particularly good-looking or engagingly shot (it really does have a made-for-TV feel—ah, more like made-for-TV and based on a stage play). Flesh tones are warm and natural, but there's a bit of black crush during darker scenes. Dolby 5.1 audio is clean and clear, though the score is sometimes cranked up a little loud in contrast to the dialogue (then again, the score is so loathsome that it would have been a little loud at any volume). Extras are limited to some deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.
Peep World is sub-Arrested Development, sub-Wes Anderson, sub-cable television obnoxiousness. It's the cinematic equivalent of a rash in a place you can't quite reach. Don't let the impressive cast trick you into thinking this film is worth a look.
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