Director: Tina Gordon Chism
Cast: Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson, Malcolm Barrett, Tyler James Williams, Kali Hawk, Kimrie Lewis-Davis, Melvin Van Peebles, Diahann Carroll, Ana Gasteyer
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content, drug material and language)
Running Time: 1:35
Release Date: 5/10/13
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 10, 2013
The poor guy is meeting his girlfriend's family for the first time, and they do not even know he exists. That's the premise of Peeples, and it's not just the setup that plays like a lazy sitcom pilot. First-time director Tina Gordon Chism, who also wrote the screenplay, blocks scenes like a multi-camera television show, with 45-degree-angle shots of people sitting on couches and straight-on medium shots of people talking.
Story and technique don't matter that much here. Once we accept that this movie is going to rely on broad, transparent comedy scenarios and present them in an incredible simple way, it's a lot easier to concentrate on what actually matters. Thankfully, Chism ensures that we know there will be little complexity or subtlety to any of the jokes almost immediately after our protagonist arrives at palatial summer home of his girlfriend's family, at which point the family dog proceeds to "mate" with him before grabbing his wallet, which has fallen out in the process, in its mouth and running off with it.
Will this come to anything? Does one really have to ask? Perhaps it will come as a surprise that the dog stealing Wade's (Craig Robinson) wallet is relevant twice. Perhaps it will not.
Either way, this is a movie that very clearly establishes that a dog—unbeknownst to our just-getting-a-taste-of-what's-to-come main character—has taken Wade's wallet, and whether we care to admit it or not, something in the brain clicks when such a situation presents itself. It's something telling us that the movie at hand isn't going to try too hard and maybe we shouldn't focus on the fact that there's a shot of the wallet on the ground, followed by a shot of the dog hovering over the spot where the wallet is before its head pulls away to reveal that the wallet is now gone from the spot—that this action and revelation, above all else that is or could be happening, is the most important thing in the world at the moment.
We can fight that click in the brain or accept it. This movie results in something of a struggle between those two impulses, because the wallet-stealing dog is only the first of many completely random gags, three of which result because Wade is in an altered state of mind—twice from drugs and once from severe dehydration. Oh, he sets a tepee on fire and tries to impale his girlfriend's father with a fake harpoon, too.
Wade is dating Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington), who may or may not be the Peeples family member of the title (The name itself seems to be used solely for a single use of a pun that is grammatically incorrect on two levels). They've been together for a year, but he's never met her family. She's planning to spend a weekend with the family for the annual celebration of Moby Dick Day in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons, and she insists that Wade stay behind. He's ready to propose to Grace, and his brother Chris (Malcolm Barrett), a "surgeon" who fixes high-priced dolls, suggests that Wade surprise her and pop the question in front of her whole family.
The Peeples family is headed by Judge (not "Mister") Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier), a strict man whose portrait even oversees the home with a look of disapproval. His wife Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson) was once a famous singer who had to quit show business after starting a family; now she's sober, save for the "alternative medicine" she grows in her garden. Their other daughter Gloria (Kali Hawk) is a reporter for a cable news network, and she's planning to tell her family that she's a lesbian and has been dating her best friend/camerawoman Meg (Kimrie Lewis-Davis). The teenage son is Simon (Tyler James Williams), who's trying to shed the image of his well-to-do family by stealing people's belongings and making music videos.
This is a very able and spirited cast, and even when the jokes are predictable or come out of nowhere, they at least put in the effort to make something of them. Grier is amusing as the harsh patriarch who insists he has no favorites but takes advantage of every opportunity to make his children fight to be the favorite and who leads a secret life of taking nighttime romps at a nudist beach (The entire family has secrets; all of them come out in succession with little pushback from anyone during the climax, just to remind us of how innocuous the whole affair is). Chris' appearance at the house is inevitable, but Barrett is quite funny, even when riffing on the obvious jokes of pretending to be someone he isn't and trying to woo a questionably receptive Gloria. Robinson's deadpan delivery and reactions keep some of the strangest sequences as grounded as they could possibly be.Even a solid cast has its limits. Peeples, which does provide some legitimate laughs when it allows its characters to interact and conflict without any absurdly contrived sight gag to interfere, pushes these actors to those limits—and repeatedly.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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