Review: ‘Peep World’ is Uneasy, Almost Unwatchable

By  · Published on March 26th, 2011

Peep World is an excruciating assemblage of one-dimensional nags, linked under a sub-par quasi-Wes Anderson family dysfunction narrative umbrella. It’s a portrait of estranged narcissistic siblings, a high-society Los Angeles architect’s grown sons and daughter, who misbehave and alienate everyone around them amid convoluted circumstances drawn exclusively from the long tradition of stories about the intelligentsia’s human failings.

Filmmaker Barry W. Blaustein casts talented people as his leads in the story of that high-powered family, forever fractured by their youngest brother/son’s tell-all expose. An uneasy dinner brings each repulsive figure together: Depressed family man Jack (Michael C. Hall), the good-for-nothing Joel (Rainn Wilson), the cavalcade of neuroses that is Cheri (Sarah Silverman) and bestselling author Nathan (Ben Schwartz), who made his name by cashing in on the clan’s darkest secrets. They’re joined by their distant mom (Lesley Ann Warren) and bag-of-sleaze dad (Henry Rifkin), who should be prosecuted for producing such a lot of insufferable losers.

While the dark comic potential in the familiar premise endures and it’s hard to immediately dismiss a film that sports so many unique performers, Blaustein and screenwriter Peter Himmelstein achieve preciously little with the material. Each character is given a tepid, one-note personality/dramatic conflict that plays out in scenes that strain for laughs. Nathan, a premature ejaculator, is given a heavy dose of an erectile drug injection. Joel lands in hot water with some creditors. Cheri complains and cries, complains and cries, and complains and cries some more.

The characters are manufactured to hit certain requisite dramatic notes, imbued with none of the gravitas, charm or deeply felt journeys through complicated emotional terrain that characterize those featured in the best works of this subgenre. There’s no arc to what’s on screen, because the film essentially begins right before the real story’s climax, draws things out for 90 minutes and ends with a thud.

Blaustein aims to evoke the scorched-earth atmosphere of an impossible betrayal’s aftermath, featuring individuals desperately struggling for a way to cope with their secrets becoming public knowledge. Yet he never offers tangible evidence of the reasons Nathan’s book has made everyone so upset. The screenplay tells us that Cheri’s life has been ruined, tells us that Jack is filled with self-loathing and self-doubt, but the before-and-after evidence is missing.

So you’re left with actors wheezing through flat miserablist comic set-ups, offering hurried vaguely-farcical line readings captured with some static camerawork before arriving around the dinner table, for an admittedly affecting scene of relentless bile-spitting. That climactic centerpiece achieves its intended effect but the rest of Peep World is just familiar, predictable filler.

The Upside: The film has an appropriate nasty streak.

The Downside: It’s overlong, thinly plotted and filled with reprehensible characters.

On the Side: The movie can be ordered via IFC Films On Demand, but don’t say you weren’t warned.