Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Cinema File #183: “Peeples” Review

Okay, I wanna make one thing perfectly clear. Just because I've made a commitment to watch all of the Tyler Perry movies featuring his signature Madea character does not mean that I feel I am obligated to watch and review every movie his name is attached to. I just wanted to make this known as I coincidentally reviewed the last one, Temptation, even though it didn't have Madea in it, and I will be reviewing the next one after this, because it will have Madea in it. And Larry the Cable Guy, because Tyler Perry hates me. If one happens to come along that doesn't qualify for the Madea Challenge and I decide that I want to skip it, so be it. Anyway, I just watched The Peeples, of my own free will and unconnected from any other review series I might otherwise be doing, and admittedly, while not particularly good, it was not nearly as terrible as I was expecting it to be.

Meet The Parents, I mean Meet The Peeples, I mean Peeples, is the story of a man who struggles to ingratiate himself with his long-time girlfriend's family over a long weekend, after he discovers that her father is an overbearing control freak, and as far as the family knows, she's been single all through their relationship. While it doesn't take much anymore to get me to see a movie, as even if I don't like it I'll still have fodder for a review, I have to admit that critical content wasn't the only thing that attracted me to this movie. Though I'm not a fan of The Office, arguably his most notable role, I've grown to like Craig Robinson in movies like Zack and Miri Make A Porno and Hot Tub Time Machine, and I've always loved David Allen Grier, Blankman notwithstanding. I can't say that either of them are bad, even if most of the material they are given is a bit too bland to justify their respective talents.

And that's this movie in a nutshell. It's pleasantly inoffensive, mildly funny at times and enough to just barely sustain my interest, but overall, just sort of...there. There are a lot of typical low key comedy set pieces peppered throughout, about half of which pay off in so far as they are somewhat entertaining, and a few random tangents that seem like they may have built to something if given more time, except clearly the exercise of writing this movie did not merit that more time be spent on it. Everyone seems like they're having a good time, which is usually enough to infuse some much appreciated energy into the proceedings, and I can't say anything about the movie suggests that I should have expected it to be any more than it is. Its the kind of movie you can take your mom to, and since the last movie I saw like this was The Guilt Trip, maybe I'm giving Peeples more of a pass.

The Tyler Perry joke I started this review with is a bit unfair actually, as he didn't write or direct this movie, and only produced it. And yet, while it is easily more well put together and entertaining then anything he has written or directed, I still see shades of his twisted worldview under the surface. For example, while there is no beating of women, the main character is still the kind of stalwartly true and good man typical of Tyler Perry male protagonists, and his woman almost loses him due to her own womanly foolishness, for which she must eventually supplicate herself to him in penance. Its not nearly as misogynistic as the rape apology of Temptation, but it was enough that it made me uncomfortable knowing the context. And also there's a subplot with the sister being a lesbian, who despite being in a relationship with a woman for several years, still needs convincing that its not a phase by trying to sleep with a man. At best, this presents a fundamental misunderstanding about homosexuality, and at worst, its an offensive assumption about lesbians that I would not ever be surprised to find in a Tyler Perry movie.

At the same time, Peeples employs many of the same tropes of Tyler Perry's well trodden wheelhouse to much better effect than he has ever seemed capable of behind the camera. The ultimate thread tying this outwardly perfect but neatly dysfunctional family together is the idea that everyone has secrets, and yet they hold themselves and each other up to an impossibly high standard of honesty as dictated by their father, who proves to be the biggest hypocrite of them all. I wouldn't call it subtle in the abstract, but when the bar is set so low, I have to give it to them for surprising me by not being unbearably hamfisted about it. The notion of traditional patriarchal family dynamics is at the heart of the movie, and poked at just enough that I almost want to give the movie credit for doing what would be tame for any other movie, but daring for any film overseen by the king of oppressive family morality.

At the end of the day, Peeples is perfectly watchable, which for many who just saw Tyler Perry's name on it and instantly recoiled constitutes nothing short of a shock to the senses. It's by no means great or groundbreaking, and the few genuinely funny moments are often separated by large swathes of less interesting material that may elicit a smile at best, but thankfully nothing close to the revulsion of something like The Guilt Trip. The performances are mostly okay if not overly demanding of the actors giving them, and on the whole the movie represents a low pressure romp that might be good for a night in with the DVD player down the road when explosions and carnage are too much to take. Can't exactly give it a full throated recommendation, but I can't muster up the passion to emphatically steer you away from it either. Enjoy...or not, I guess.

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