In my viewing experience, indie comedies with strong casts can either be refreshingly quirky or redundantly quirky (What Just Happened, anyone?). I guess there’s a temptation to be more sloppy as well as more “risky” when writing and directing a film like Peep World, made under a million dollars and shot in just 24 days. Luckily for the crowd at the Winter Garden Theatre, Peep World was just as funny, nasty and quirky as it made itself out to be.
Writer/director Barry W. Blaustein is a funny guy. He introduced the screening by claiming how happy he was to be back in Toronto – “My ex-wife is from here. Fond memories.” He also proved to be a competent story-teller. Peep World begins at a dinner celebrating the birthday of patriarch of a dysfunctional family before backtracking 18 hours earlier. All the stereotypes are present: there’s the eldest son with a martyr’s sense of duty (Jack), the complete fuck-up (Joel), the failed female artist (Cheri), and the youngest (Nathan), a writer whose book Peep World exposes the family’s embarrassing secrets.
Nathan’s book has also topped the bestseller list, only making him more of a narcissist. Ben Shwarz is the personification of smug as Nathan, halfway through a book tour and deciding fix his, er, short-term endurance problem. He’s the type of person who would give his brother’s name to the doctor to deflect knowledge of his premature ejaculation – and he does. Jack is played by the typically drawn brow of Michael C. Hall, who is by far the film’s most dramatic character. There is a lot of David Fisher in the long-suffering and quiet Jack, on the nervous cusp of fatherhood. There is not a lot Dwight Shrute in the hopeless Joel, played by Rainn Wilson with more sympathy than usual. And there is a lot of Sarah Silverman in Sarah Silverman’s Cheri, though she’s given enough good lines by writer Peter Himmelstein that her gatling gun irony and sarcasm works.Ironic is the overall tone of the movie, narrated by Lewis Black and spliced between four different narrative strands, one for each sibling. Notable in the supporting ranks is Taraji P. Henson as Joel’s loving girlfriend, a limited role she makes the most electrically funny (“All this fuss about a book? I have cousins who shot each other and got over it.”)
Blaustein moves the plot along these pathways, stopping along the way for situational mayhem. Nathan tries to do a book reading while nursing a throbbingly painful erection; Cheri seeks the comfort of a Jew for Jesus who wants to bed her; Jack’s wife Laura (Judy Greer) looks for him in the video booths of a porn shop – this last one is more heartbreaking than amusing. After an eventful day of disaster, the family sits down to dinner with father (Ron Rifkin). Nathan has not seen any of them since his book was published, making for perhaps the most awkward of awkward gatherings. Cheri sees to that pretty quickly, and before long “bitch” and “motherfucker” are hurled across the screen halfway through the opening toasts.
The scene is relentlessly funny and wounding as every grievance and issue is laid bare by the cross-table sniping. To make matters worse, it turns out Dad is dating the actress who plays Cheri in the upcoming movie adaptation of Peep World. Sarah Silverman’s jaw drops in astonishment at this twist of Oedipal logic. Emerging from the debacle is the torturous state of all the siblings. They all hate their inconsiderate father, but, because of their shortcomings, need his financial support.
Somehow Mr. Asshole does bring his family together, though it is a very ironic path towards reconciliation. Blaustein also brings the film together at the end after a solid and sometimes exceptional 90 minutes of peeping into the timeless theme of broken kin.
Peep World premiered September 15th at Roy Thomson Hall. It also played September 16th at Ryerson Theatre and will play there Sunday September 19th.