Film Review: Peep World

One more fighting dysfunctional family has its screen portrait painted and we've seen it all before, done much, much better.

It's the 70th birthday of super-successful magnate Henry Meyerwitz (Ron Rifkin), and his entire clan has gathered together to celebrate it. The problem is, this is anything but a celebration, as the Meyerwitzes are the most bickering, dysfunctional passel of kinfolk imaginable.

The youngest son, Nathan (Ben Schwartz), has evoked the ire of everyone by writing a book, Peep World, which lays bare all of his family's contentiousness and nasty secrets. Ultra-bitter and bitchy sister Cheri (Sarah Silverman), an unsuccessful actress/writer/singer, is suing him, and the book has only added to the problems of his brothers, Jack (Michael C.Hall), ostensibly the responsible sibling, whose marriage is threatened by his addiction to Hitler books and peep-show porn, and Joel (Rainn Wilson), an underachieving loser who has a pair of scary loan sharks on his tail.

TV's delightfully warped “Arrested Development” really ruined Peep World for me; that series' wit, observation and perfectly sustained dry comic tone are everything this new film is sadly not. I initially had hopes for Peter Himmelstein's script, which starts with a nice tartness but soon enough degenerates into flailing, repetitive obviousness and mean-spirited pointlessness. Director Barry W. Blaustein's heavy-handed direction doesn't do much to redeem things either. The movie is so unrelentingly nasty, you just don't care about this tiresome bunch of quarrelers, and Blaustein's attempts to mine poignancy in the respective plights of Jack and Joel, not to mention Nathan's premature-ejaculation problem, fail miserably. In Nathan's case, Himmelstein has him take a form of Viagra which renders him with an enormous, unwieldy and embarrassing erection. His much-abused, hostile personal assistant actually volunteers to provide sexual relief for him, and you cringe at her all-too-willing, out-of-character abasement.

The actors are, to a man, defeated by the material, with Hall and Wilson basically doing pallid variations of their work in, respectively, “Six Feet Under” and “The Office,” while Silverman is merely annoying in a very annoying part. Rifkin comes across like a malevolent Bob Balaban, and Lesley Anne Warren, who uncannily looks more like Silverman's sister than her mother, is completely wasted as the wife he dumped for a younger model, who happens to be playing Cheri in the screen adaptation of the troublesome book (which is—yawn—being filmed right outside Cheri's front door). Taraji P. Henson brings a bit of style to the rather unconvincing role of Joel's girlfriend, but you definitely wonder why this beautiful black woman is in love with this sad sack. Cheri also has a kind of love interest in the form of Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays a devoted member of Jews for Jesus, as if that (largely undeveloped) fact alone is cause for immediate hilarity.