Friday, September 2, 2011

Peep World (now on video)

[PEEP WORLD is now available on home video.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Found in the Red Box: A whole lotta comedic Jewish self-loathing. Please return to Barry W. Blaustein. Who, remarkably, is not the name of a neurotic-playwright character created by and portrayed by Woody Allen, but rather the director of PEEP WORLD, a my-big-dysfunctional-Jewish-banquet farce that played the festival route, oh, around last Hannukah but went unceremoniously to DVD in July. Blaustein, as I say, directed. Script is by Hideo Takehashi Fujimura. Just kidding about that last part. Script is actually by Peter Himmelstein.

The cast is not exactly chopped liver: Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Taraji P. Henson, Alicia Witt, Kate Mara, Leslie Ann Warren, with droll narration by Lewis Black, and there's even an Amy Winehouse joke that's either great or terrible timing, depending on your POV... Yet the picture circumvented most theaters. I don't doubt that on the small screen it works best, in a poor man's LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE-y kind of way. Or maybe I was just charmed by one of the shooting locations being the historic Bradbury Building in LA, famously seen previously in the classic DOA and BLADE RUNNER, to name but a few.

Storyline revolves around the big birthday-feast night for Henry Meyerwitz (Ron Rifkin), the only Los Angeles real-estate developer still prospering despite the lousy economy. He's a flagrant adulterer and emotional nonentity to his four grown children, who include a failed architect, a recovering addict and a futile wannabe actress (Silverman) who has taken to hanging out with Jews for Jesus, she's that bad. There is only one son of whom Henry is genuinely proud – young Nathan (Ben Schwartz), who has just embarrassed the whole household by writing them into "Peep World," a big-selling memoir-novel that fingers them all as a bunch of losers, porn fiends, drama queens, junkies and co-dependents. Henry, however, is delighted - because Nathan is the only child of his making money (look on the bright side, at least nobody in the flick wears a yarmulke). Nathan's own sister, meanwhile, lives down to her rep in the book by suing Nathan for defamation.

Fitfully amusing action follows the various pathetic Meyerwitzses in their uncomfortable preparations for a reunion with Nathan and dad at the fancy dinner, where some of them still hope to impress and earn approval from their patriarch. Among the hi-jinks: Nathan, on his book tour with a hot publicist, impulsively gets an injection that gives him an uncontrollable erection during a live appearance in a ritzy bookstore. I have to add, I'm an author and I've done live appearances, and that's never happened to me. Nobody ever invited me to speak in a ritzy bookstore (rim shot). But seriously, folks, you might be wondering if there's a real-life inspiration for the Nathan character, and all I can say is that Philip Roth can probably breathe a sigh of relief that there are just so many creepy-dysfunctional-family writers out there, male and female, Jew and goy, that no any one name in particular stands out.

In fact, a comedy about a tell-all writer who lies through his teeth about everything (and I do remember a short story from wayyyy back about such a thing, I think it was B.M. Atkinson’s “The Passionate Plowboy’s Last Furrow,” but you’ll have to check me about that in your 1950s collections of Collier’s Monthly) might have made a more original premise. Or at least one that comes up with more to say than PEEP WORLD ultimately does. As it is, the comedy held my attention for what comes out an amazingly brief running time, just 79 minutes. Really, the last time an American comedy was that short I think it starred the Bowery Boys. The picture doesn't so much end as not quite have the strength to go on, and there's something to admire in that, I guess. Overall, it’s an acceptable rental for rainy-afternoon entertainment and a dose of schadenfreuden, with time left over to do something worthwhile with the rest of your day. (2 1/2 out of 4 stars)

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