‘Peep World’: Don’t look now

March 25, 2011

Barry Blaustein’s “Peep World” bears a striking resemblance, thematically and, to a certain extent, plotwise, to Jon Robin Baitz’s recent play, “Other Desert Cities”:


A family gathers and confronts the various resentments, grudges and other closely harbored slights they bear each other – provoked by the publication of a book by one member of the family that delineates the failings, shortcomings and secrets of the rest.


In the case of “Peep World,” the book is a novel by the youngest son in the Meyerwitz family. Youngest son Nate (Ben Schwartz) has written “Peep World,” a book that essentially flays his siblings as losers, self-involved no-talents and otherwise self-deceiving fools – while limning the greatness of their father, who, in fact, was a distant, withholding real-estate mogul.


Now they’re all gathering in Los Angeles to celebrate the 70th birthday of their father Henry (Ron Rifkin). But the dinner is merely the final act of a  period in their lives where everything seems to be falling apart – culminating in this gathering at which they’ll finally have a confrontation with Nate.


As Peter Himmelstein’s script jumps from the dinner itself back to the day before, we get a thumbnail of each Meyerwitz child’s disappointing life. Daughter Cheri (Sarah Silverman) is a would-be actress-artist-performer whose career has gone nowhere. Now the ultimate indignity: Not only are they shooting the film based on Nate’s book right outside her apartment – but the actress portraying the character based on Cheri shows up at the dinner as her father’s distinctly under-age date.


Son Joel (Rainn Wilson) is a failing lawyer who has maxed out his credit cards and owes big money to a group of Hondurans. He’s representing a female security guard (Taraji Henson) in a divorce and happens to be involved romantically with her. But the Hondurans are pressing him – until he promises that, if they show up at his father’s birthday dinner, his father will write a check to cover his debt.


Oldest son Jack (Michael C. Hall) is the family’s responsible one. While his father is a building developer, Jack has become an architect. But his business is in the toilet and he can’t quite bring himself to reveal that fact to his pregnant wife (Judy Greer). Instead, he finds his release in on-line porn, a fact that he mistakenly confided to Nate – and which Nate revealed and lampooned in his book.


Then there’s Nate himself – younger than the rest of his siblings by almost a decade, talented but insecure and suffering from premature ejaculation. Which leads to the film’s most ridiculous turn: Just before a book signing/reading, he goes to a urologist, who gives him an injection into his penis to solve the problem – which gives him a painfully long-lasting erection. He winds up with a tentpole in his pants that proves, shall we say, disruptive, at that reading.


The problem with “Peep World” is that, after this set-up, there’s no real release, no payoff to all the balls Blaustein and Himmelstein have put in the air. We learn that Joel is a loser, but a good-hearted one, with grandiose dreams and no follow-through. As for Cheri, well, Silverman plays her as a spoiled, self-indulgent brat and makes that funny – but the character itself is a dreary one, all complaint and no substance. Jack, meanwhile, is the saddest, trapped and failing in a life he never wanted, though we never know what it is he’s sacrificed to follow what obviously is his father’s dream.


Rifkin plays the father as a monster who has no apologies for being successful at the expense of his family’s happiness. Lesley Anne Warren, as Henry’s first wife and the siblings’ mothers, doesn’t have much to do as the ex-wife, who is also on the guest list for this birthday party from hell.


“Peep World” is a movie that has the right feel but none of the delivery. The fact that it is narrated by Lewis Black promises something better as well – and fails to deliver that, either.


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