Dysfunction. Betrayal. Family. None of these are new concepts and yet we return to them time after time. What for? Is it because we see something of ourselves in these worlds? Are we just gluttons for punishment and suckers for laughing at the problems of others? Well, if you’re looking for the answer to any of these questions or more, you won’t find them with the latest indie venture, Peep World. The film revolves around a group of siblings who gather for their father’s birthday after the youngest publishes a scathing commentary about his family’s failures. Sounds like comedic gold, right? To be fair, Peep World does have its moments, but not enough to make its 80 minute running time seem like a worthwhile investment.
Truth be told, Peep World has the classic struggle of “potential vs. pay-off.” The film boasts a strong cast of A-listers and comedy favorites, but never seems to trust them enough to carry an entire storyline. Instead, the film flits from character to character in what feels more like a series of vignettes than an entire narrative film.
But one of the biggest problems is the simple matter that, what’s happening to these people isn’t funny. One of the sons is going out of business and another is deep in debt. The only one who comes close to a semblance of a comedic character is Sarah Silverman’s Cheri, who is unfairly burdened with a staggeringly unfunny screen partner in the form of Stephen Toblowsky’s Ephraim, a Jew for Jesus. The problem is, at face value, most of these characters could pass as comedic, but when the director forces the level of introspection, laughs turn to awkward silences between the audience and the characters onscreen. Laughing at them almost feels cruel. It’s not that you feel for them. You pity them. They seem trapped in quiet lives of desperation of their own making.
Unfortunately, director Barry Blaustein seems caught in a messy area, sometimes going too far while there are other moments that he doesn’t go far enough. For instance, the infamous novel that the film revolves around is also being made into a movie, shooting outside of failed actress/sister Cheri’s apartment. While this could be mined for some strong comedic moments, it is mentioned in passing in a few scenes, but never really fleshed out. I kept hoping it would return (maybe a joke about Cheri auditioning for the part based on her own life and not getting the role because she wasn’t “believable” enough) but instead, it becomes a one-note joke that is never given the chance it deserved.
Nevertheless, the worst offense of Peep World is the structure of the film. Returning to the idea of the separate vignettes of these character’s lives, it seems counterintuitive to the premise of the film. The movie is about the family reacting to this book, but we rarely see the characters function as a family. In fact, most scenes consist of one or two actors at most. Throughout the majority of the film, this seems like a missed opportunity. It is only when we see them together, notably in the very beginning and towards the end, that Peep World truly shines. The actors have such strong chemistry and play off of each other beautifully that it is difficult not to feel cheated that the film didn’t have more of that. In the end, Peep World‘s attempt at dysfunction with an indie sensibility never truly lives up to its name, offering little insight into the family dynamic and even less in laughs.