J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Club from Hell: Peep World

The book publishing industry engages in so many foolish practices, it is ripe for a satirical mauling. (Believe me, I know.) From blindly clinging to disadvantageous business practices to allowing television personalities with dubious middlebrow tastes set their sales priorities, the material is there. Unfortunately, the great big-screen publishing send-up will not be appearing this week, despite the promising premise of Barry W. Blausein’s Peep World (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Nathan Meyerwitz has a bestseller on his hands. While supposedly only loosely inspired by his annoying family, his novel is pretty much the unvarnished chapter-and-verse. This created some rather hard feelings, particularly with his high-strung sister Cheri. As the family whipping post, the eldest brother Jack takes it in stride, while middle brother Joel is too busy being a self-defeating lowlife to give it much mind. Of course, all their petty resentments will come to a head at the film’s main event: the seventieth birthday party for their emotionally distant father, whose unattainable affection they all crave.

In truth, the family-tell-all-that-told-too-much holds a lot of comic potential, but the execution is as flat as the state of Kansas. Indeed, Peep’s “big” ribald sight gag only reminds viewers how much more deftly Blake Edwards handled similar material in Skin Deep, one of his lesser films. Sarah Silverman is particularly embarrassing as the Meyerwitz sister. Allegedly a comedian, she displays absolutely no comic timing, but somehow proves it is possible to screech in a boring monotone.

Ironically, those that best weather Peep are those who play it almost entirely straight. Despite being saddled with some tawdry plot points, Michael C. Hall manages to come across likably grounded as the Number One Son, while Judy Greer brings surprising grace to role of his wife Laura. Although Number Two Son Joel is written with industrial strength quirkiness, Rainn Wilson still brings out something credibly human for us to latch onto. However, rather than laughs or serious drama, Ben Schwartz simply delivers a series of face-palm moments as the shallow youngest brother.

Watching Peep is frankly a sad experience, because it seems like it ought to work on paper, but on film it so obviously does not. It is a shame, because it wastes the talents of two movie veterans like Ron Rifkin and Lesley Ann Warren (who still looks great, by the way), as the problematic Meyerwitz parents. Basically a mess of a film, Peep opens this Friday (3/25) in New York at the IFC Center.