I remember hearing about this movie when it came out in 2010, and being utterly delighted by the cast: Michael C. Hall, Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Ben Schwartz (ahem, Benny Schwaz), Kate Mara, Judy Greer, blah blah blah. And then, for some reason, I never actually saw it. Seeing Michael C. Hall on Broadway as Hedwig made me remember it, though, and stream it on Netflix.
I’m glad I did, even though it wasn’t the world’s greatest movie, because it deserves a little love. Four years later, This Is Where I Leave You came out, and OH MY GOD, it’s basically the same movie. Four siblings gathering against their will because their father makes them. There are many differences, mostly minutae, but the similarities are sort of sickening. (Benny is even in both movies!) I’m inclined to be a little mad at TIWILY for getting all the credit, though the book it was based on was published in 2009. Who knows. Either way, the Venn Diagrams of these two movies overlap so much that they’re basically just one circle, and it makes me wince that so many people I love are involved in carbon copies of the same movie. Then again, I guess this is just a Friends With Benefits/No Strings Attached type of situation. Oy.
Yes, oy. Peep World is also about a Jewish family. While the quality of this movie, production-wise, was much lower, I think it took itself far less seriously and covered much less ground than Peep World, giving it more points in my book. It also didn’t indulge its actors and let them depend heavily on their previously-established comedic talents. Michael C. Hall, playing the sort-of Corey Stoll character, doesn’t often get to be a normal guy with normal problems. Here, he was. He got to sit back and be the boring guy, and even though that wasn’t entirely believable (because he’ll always have a sparkle in his eye), he’s always had a calm about him that makes him truly magnetic onscreen. And watching him slowly boil, only to lash out at his father very eloquently, was worth it. Rainn Wilson, not the youngest but definitely in the Adam Driver role, got the chance to be a slob. A real slob, too, and a fuck-up. One that has nothing in common with his cleaned-up, thoughtful real life personality, or the OCD quality that most of his television characters tend to have. Even cooler, he and MCH kind of looked like they could be real brothers.
Sarah Silverman, playing the Tina Fey role and thus the lone woman, acted the hell out of this. She deserves much more credit than she ever gets for how truthful she can be on screen. She plays crazy well, yes, but even more than that, she has the ability to say what no one else could, with no one else’s timing, and in no one else’s tone. I can’t wait to see her do more non-comedic stuff, because she’s going to kill it. Benny probably had the most in common with Jason Bateman’s role, in that he was the focal sibling of the bunch. (He and Sarah also look like siblings!) The difference is that Peep World is the name of the book that his character, Nathan, wrote about his whole family, thus revealing all their secrets and causing a lot of resentment. There’s an air of Six Feet Under black comedy in this story, too, and not just because of MCH, but because Brenda and Billy Chenowith grew up with the world knowing about their childhood after their mother published a book about it. The family airs their grievances at one dinner, specifically because of the book, and thus the plot has more focus. In TIWILY, the movie got lost in explaining years of backstory, because the family gathering took place over a week and introduced way too many side characters to keep up with.
Speaking of side characters: Kate Mara played Nathan’s publicist. Taraji P. Henson played Joel’s (Wilson) girlfriend. Greer played Jack’s (Hall) wife. Lewis Black narrated the whole thing, in maybe his most tolerable role to date. I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it. Ensemble casts like this just don’t work out the way you think they will. Even though I think this movie was a little better than TIWILY, both were still overwhelming. And both are discouraging me from ever seeing August: Osage County. Watching another family sort out its problems is not exactly something movie-goers want to do. We all have our own family problems to deal with, after all. Peep World, unfortunately, contains a lot of great parts, but the sum of ’em isn’t so great.