Michael C. Hall and Rainn Wilson haven't shared screen time since HBO's funereal comedy series, Six Feet Under. Gravely speaking, says Kimberly Gadette, might Peep World's faltering family plot need, um, another kind of family plot?
If done well, the dysfunctional family comedy succeeds in delivering laughs with unique characters thrown into scenarios that run the gamut between the everyday and the screwy. Classics like Parenthood, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Once Around and The Royal Tenenbaums come to mind, as well as such perennials as the original Father of the Bride and You Can't Take it With You.
Along comes the newest entry into this genre, the supposedly comic Peep World. It's a world, all right ... a world of wrong.
With an opening narration by Lewis Black, we hear how real estate tycoon Henry Meyerwitz (Ron Rifkin) never wanted children. But having sired a few, four in fact, narrator Black cites the old Rabbinical saying, "Commit a sin twice, and it will not seem a crime." Given that the Peep World producers hired two subpar "steins" (director Barry Blaustein and writer Peter Himmelstein), perhaps they were exercising the same principle.
In any event, this painfully strained tale looks at Henry's three unhappy adult children who have all had to bear up under the shame of having their dirty laundry aired in public thanks to the tell-all book, the titular Peep World penned by the fourth and youngest child Nathan (Ben Schwartz). Oldest son Jack (Michael C. Hall) is losing his architecture business just as his wife (Judy Greer) is about to give birth to their first child. His economic woes look positively golden next to the status of siblings Joel (Rainn Wilson), a three-time rehab veteran and Cheri (Sarah Silverman), a washout in various hyphenates: artist-actress-singer/songwriter. The only child who's making Papa Meyerwitz proud is young Nate, smug and cocksure. Well, in truth, not all that cocksure, since he's having problems with premature ejaculation and yes, we'll have to suffer through that as well.
The film is staged around the celebration of Henry's 70th birthday, with the children and ex-wife (Lesley Ann Warren) attending with their assorted spouses, lovers, friends and, in Nate's case, public relations assistant, in tow. As they wait for Henry to make his entrance, the family avoids speaking to each other ... instead, they sigh heavily, rolling their eyes upwards, suffering the unrelenting drag of an endless ennui.
We know exactly how they feel.
Michael C. Hall has never seemed so uncomfortable. While Rainn Wilson finds a few decent moments, his scenes with his new girlfriend (Taraji P. Henson) are staged with as much aplomb as if Blaustein were attempting his first directing assignment at some slap-dash community college workshop. As for the embittered Cheri, Silverman is in desperate need of a strong director to help guide her in crafting an actual character. While she's done perfectly well in stand-up and shows built around her own personality, Silverman has yet to successfully take on an acting assignment that reflects any veracity.
The dysfunction seems far more prevalent behind the camera than in front, the above-mentioned amateurish direction matched by hackneyed and pointless writing. A particular low point occurs when Nathan, suffering from an uncontrollably aggressive erection brought on by a quack doctor's injection, decides to appear in public. Note: this is a character who is very concerned with his public persona. Yet he'll suddenly throw caution to the wind, attending a scheduled book signing even though he knows he won't be able to cover up the gigantic protuberance that's creating mayhem in his pants. Worse, the scene is performed without energy, without any real humor. While our pain is thankfully different from Nathan's, it is still palpable as we have to watch this character artlessly stumble around the bookstore's makeshift stage, standing with his back to the camera, then shambling from one side to the other, grabbing at furniture, tripping, so on and so forth. Shot as if this were a real occurrence, it's an ungainly, ugly exercise in poor filmmaking.
Oh, and let's not forget the particularly flat lighting throughout.
You'd think a comedy featuring such adept performers as Michael C. Hall, Rainn Wilson, Taraji P. Henson and Judy Greer would be fun. Ha ha! The laugh's on us.
Rating on a scale of 5 reasons to attend a good film school: 1
Release date: US: 25 March 2011 (ltd), UK: TBD
Directed by: Barry W. Blaustein
Written by: Peter Himmelstein
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Ben Schwartz, Judy Greer, Taraji P. Henson, Kate Mara, Ron Rifkin, Lesley Ann Warren, Alicia Witt, Lewis Black (narrator)
Rating: US = R; UK = TBC
Running time: 89 minutes