A man named Nathan (Ben Schwartz) writes a novel. Inside this novel is a depiction of how his three siblings, father and mother all live their lives. This isn’t a pleasant depiction either — rainbows and unicorns aren’t abundant in this story. His brothers and sister are upset that he wrote this book (one even goes so far as to start a lawsuit) but his parents don’t mind too much. All communication since the book has been published has been by telephone. Everyone is going to meet one another in 18 hours for a dinner celebrating the father’s (Ron Rifkin) birthday.
There’s the set-up to Peep World, an ensemble comedy where such a book has been written. If you’re wondering, it is also called Peep World. The other siblings are as follows: Jack (Michael C. Hall), an architect whose business is falling apart; Cheri (Sarah Silverman), the one who wants to sue her brother for publishing a book that (she believes) doesn’t accurately portray her; and Joel (Rainn Wilson), a man who has been to rehab three times, can barely hold down a job, and has no money to his name.
Each character has an additional person that follows them around, allowing them each to have a separate story to deal with before the climactic dinner. Jack has a pregnant wife (Judy Greer) who curses in her sleep and he assumes isn’t completely happy with their relationship. Or at least, that’s what the handy-dandy narrator (Lewis Black) tells us. Cheri confesses frequently to a Jewish man (Stephen Tobolowsky), who we’re told only listens to her because he wishes to sleep with her. Joel has an ex-military girlfriend (Taraji P. Henson) who seems to be the only person in the world who actually thinks he’s worth something. And then there’s Nathan, who has an assistant (Kate Mara) who he doesn’t treat with respect, but hangs around with him because that’s her job.
I’ve only begun describing the characters, and you are already overloaded with information. If you choose to watch Peep World, get used to it. There’s so much going on in each scene that it’s difficult to keep track of everything that happens. This is especially true when you realize that it’s only 79 minutes long, and that all 79 are used to their fullest. Extending that running time would have been very beneficial though, and you’ll realize that when you reach the end, which comes just as things begin to get interesting.
With such a large cast, it’s difficult to develop all of them. This is an ensemble film, one with a great cast that is underused at every turn. I believe that the runtime has everything to do with this; for a film with this large of a cast and this many plot threads going on, it could have gone on for 30 minutes longer or more. You do eventually grow to like all these people — short tempered as they may be — although you don’t really get to know them, which is arguably as important.
I’ve talked about the ensemble part of the genre, so let’s go into the comedy portion. For the most part, this is a funny film. I laughed quite often, although it wasn’t laugh-out-loud type of laughter. There were only a handful of times where you could hear me laughing, but I snickered quite often and generally had a good time in terms of the comedy aspect. There are a few memorable lines — none of which I will spoil — and it manages to cram a lot of jokes into the 79 minutes it plays for. Be aware though, this is an independent comedy film, and the humor styles between independent and mainstream are often quite different.
Even though all of the characters and story arcs don’t get enough time to come full circle, it doesn’t really matter because once the third act comes around, the plot takes a completely different direction anyway. You’d assume that this dinner would be a war of words (and possibly food) that eventually leads to the characters either learning that their hatred toward their brother was unwarranted, but it instead turns out that Nathan’s book isn’t even really involved. So yeah, you basically spend 60 or so minutes with these people while the book is the central focus, only to have that time ignored in the conclusion. Interesting.
Granted, most of the earlier moments contain humorous parts, so it’s not like you’re having a terrible time while watching it, but without much purpose and having the majority of the story ignored in the end, it feels kind of pointless. You’re expecting some sort of payoff, but instead Peep World just fizzles and goes out with a whimper instead of a bang. All of these events are built up, and then they’re arbitrarily ended without the conclusion that you deserve.
Peep World is an enjoyable film but also an empty one. By the end, you have a feeling that you sat through an incredibly pointless movie, even if you did have some fun along the way. Is it necessarily worth a watch? Probably not, but I can’t say that I regret sitting through it, especially since it only runs for approximately 80 minutes. It doesn’t really satisfy though, and left me feeling as if a big finale was planned, but the filmmakers ran out of money and couldn’t deliver.