Word on the IFC-distributed comedy “Peep World” has been enormously quiet, even for those who scour for the latest in upcoming indies. With a cast consisting of Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Judy Greer, Kate Mara, Ronn Rifkin, and Lesley Ann Warren flying under the radar like this without any buzz, it can’t be a good thing. Barry W. Blaustein’s second foray into narrative filmmaking (his first was, and let us never forget it, “The Ringer“) is devoid of what makes comedy films work, including the whole “making the audience laugh” part.
Youngest sibling Nathan (Ben Schwartz) has found success with his debut novel “Peep World,” a tell-all of his dysfunctional family comprised of architect/porn-store-regular Jack (Hall), actress/model/singer/fuck-up Cheri (Silverman), and fuck-up/fuck-up Joel (Wilson). Their father (Rifkin)’s yearly birthday dinner is coming up and sparks are sure to fly thanks to the strain the popular book is having on their lives. While we see a small glimpse of the supper in the opening, the meat of the story takes place hours earlier leading up to the event.
From here we’re forced to endure four jam-packed stories, all setup-heavy and drier than elephant skin. Jack is the good son, working as an architect and doing his damnedest to keep the family afloat, specifically bailing Joel out of whatever mishap he finds himself caught up in. Because of these heavy burdens, Jack frequently confides in Nathan, which only seems to make things worse considering he used his brother’s uglier habits not only for his book’s plot, but for its very title. Cheri spends most of her time complaining, either to the religious fanatic interested in jumping her bones or her mother (the sorely underused Warren). But really everyone’s underused, the director’s fork dips in too many dishes at once and spends only a few minutes with one character before cutting to the next. Nothing believable can grow from this spotty handling, and one wonders why the creative team didn’t just cut the fat and focus on one of the siblings with the others in supporting roles. Even then, having two successful siblings and two that are good-for-nothings is terribly redundant, especially if they’re all paper thin.
In theory, all of the actors could’ve pulled the mess together and provided some chuckles; instead they deliver the obvious jokes without any flare or originality. Not so convincingly, the film establishes anticipation for the inevitable dinner party, if only because everyone will finally be together and be able to play off one another’s personalities. Unfortunately it’s a squandered opportunity, interaction is at a minimum and chemistry is absent. At this point, Blaustein has the audacity to attempt dramatic emotion as the family bonds over the fact that their father is a cold douchebag before he nearly keels over. Sorry, but stock plot points cannot be forgiven, especially not in comedies that are bereft of any humor. Not to be too harsh, there is one funny sequence, which involves Nathan and a needle-induced erection. While this writer isn’t too high brow for juvenile humor, when your movie’s only legitimately amusing moment is someone in pain because his penis is too hard, you’re not doing so hot.
Not only does “Peep World” not work as a comedy, but it doesn’t work or feel like a movie in any sense. There’s no sort of weight to it and its multi-character POVs make it feel like a mediocre television pilot. In fact the family dynamic, occasional Lewis Black narration (very obviously a favor), hand-held camera, and cued-up playful music only feel like an “Arrested Development” wannabe. Ultimately it’s one of those forgettable indies that will spend its eternity as a Netflix Instant Watch, maybe thrown on when bed time beckons, but nothing more. Maybe the real joke is the fact that the director amassed this much talent and did nothing with it, but fuck was that a draining way for one person to get a laugh. [D]