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Review: 'Peeples' is a Charming Farce with Black Family Ties (Opens Today)

Reviews
by Jai Tiggett
May 10, 2013 12:03 PM
13 Comments
  • |
S. Epatha Merkerson and Tyler James Williams in 'Peeples'


Blink and you'll miss it. Amid the noise dismissing Tina Gordon Chism's Peeples as another broad, formulaic comedy akin to a black version of Meet the Parents, you might be tempted to gloss over this film in favor of its bigger-budgeted competition. Admittedly, I too raised an eyebrow at the not-so-enticing trailer. But ultimately Peeples offers lots of laughs, some genuine truths about relationships and a take on black family that has been missing from Hollywood fare for far too long.

Craig Robinson stars as Wade Walker, a warm and fuzzy kids' entertainer longing to propose to his live-in girlfriend Grace Peeples (aptly played by Kerry Washington), a U.N. attorney who's way out of his league. When Grace heads to a family getaway in Sag Harbor without him, Wade sees it as a golden opportunity to show up unannounced and pop the question among her adoring kin. But he first has to win the Peeples' approval, which proves daunting as he faces off with Grace's father (David Alan Grier), a federal judge who takes an immediate disliking to him. Naturally, wackiness ensues.

To be sure, this is a rambunctious four-quadrant comedy with all the trappings. So expect the gags, the awkward setups, and the serious dramatic climax followed by a happy-sappy ending, because that's what the genre is about. But what shines in Peeples is its stellar cast and the space that Chism gives them to play and improvise, making gut-busting moments of potentially predictable scenes. In case you've forgotten about Grier's comic ability during his dramatic stint on Broadway, he reminds us of his skills here as no-nonsense Judge Peeples, while consummate pros S. Epatha Merkerson as Grace's former soul diva mom, Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) and Kali Hawk (Couples Retreat) as the Peeples siblings, and scene-stealing Malcolm Barrett (Better Off Ted) as Wade's brother Chris round out the cast.

Robinson holds his own as leading man and for all concerned, the relationship between Wade and Grace is only the entry point for a story that's really about an entire family and the quirky secrets they hide. This is where Chism links the farce to reality, which makes it all the more interesting. Revelations like Grace's affinity for older men or young Simon Peeples' wacky pastimes in his bedroom are silly enough, but still plausible and relatable.

The thing to really appreciate about Peeples is its rich and genuine portrayal of the black family at its center. Chism, who got her start working on The Cosby Show before penning the scripts for Drumline and ATL, is definitely a student of the Bill Cosby approach to comedy. Not only does Peeples mimic the style of TV, but more broadly, it seeks to tell a uniquely black story within a mainstream framework. This isn't the hackneyed, artificial blackness we're used to seeing on screen. There's no Gospel proselytizing, no Kevin Hart-like shenanigans, no men in drag. But everything - from the dialogue, to the music threaded throughout the film, to the Romare Bearden and Geoffrey Holder art in the Peeples' home - is infused with black culture in a way that's authentic to us and yet accessible to all. That film icons Diahann Carroll and Melvin Van Peebles (whose brief scenes with Grier are life-giving) appear as nana and grandpa to this clan should be a hint that something special is happening here.

Tech aspects are sufficient. By all accounts, this is a solid directorial debut for Chism and I'm curious to see how it will be received. I'm even more curious to see what Chism will do with a bigger budget and more freedom from studio limitations, which she'll only get if Peeples performs well. Filmmaking is a hustle, but against the odds Chism and her team have delivered much of what audiences, particularly black audiences, have been asking for - They managed to get a studio to take a chance on an original script from a first-time black female director. They got Tyler Perry to support the film as producer while staying hands-off creatively. They got a top-notch cast, all of whom have had mainstream success. They made a broad, family-friendly comedy that manages to be genuinely funny and authentically black. And today they'll get a wide release. Truly, a little bit of magic has been achieved with Peeples and it'll be interesting, and telling, to see how audiences respond.

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13 Comments

  • Sue Rock | May 15, 2013 7:41 PMReply

    HERE HERE for a Plus size Male ROMANTIC Lead - SO looking forward to this film :)

  • Vonmiwi | May 13, 2013 9:19 PMReply

    Thanks for the excellent review about this funny and inspiring movie. For those of you who are blinded by your personal hatred of Tyler Perry, you're missing a very funny movie. Sadly, it's always the ones who often complain about a lack of movies directed at black audiences who do all of the hating. Here, Tyler Perry has supported this director, and (a black woman at that) by creating a movie that is quite funny and folks can't get past his name.

  • soulshadow55 | May 13, 2013 4:24 PMReply

    I saw Peeples this past Friday night, and believe me, although it's not politically correct in some black communities I happen to like Tyler Perry. However, his stamp is nowhere on this movie at all. Only his name at the beginning of the credits, after that it's all Tina Gordon Chism. It was soooo damn funny. We laughed, we cried, we laughed so hard that a few times I had to check myself because I thought I was disturbing the people around me. Only to realize that the were laughing as hard as we were. I never did get past Craig Robinson as Kerry Washington's fiance but I made a concerted effort to put it in the back of my mind. For one thing, he was so stupid, silly and fun that you could sort of see him charm her with his sense of humor. David Allen Grier and S. Epatha Merchison (forgive the spelling) were outstanding. As was the rest of the cast. It was just genuinely stupid funny, well acted, sweet and outrageous. Malcolm Barrett is the new Dave Chappell. Whenever I thought about the movie over the weekend I would just smile and laugh when I remembered a wacky scene or a funny line. I got to work today and was talking to my co-worker about her weekend. She mentioned that she went to see it and I said I did as well. We both broke out in that kind of laughter that only people who've shared a movie experience can understand. And as was mentioned in the article - it was really, really nice to see Diahann Carroll and Melvin Van Peeples on screen again. We went to a late 10:05 showing and there were a lot of empty seats. But I'm sure that's because of Iron Man and the other big budget movies that were out. I'm hoping word-of-mouth will bring more people to the theatre to see it. I thought it was absolutely hilarious and I throughly enjoyed it. I hope to see her direct another movie soon. If Peeples is any indication of what she can do as a director I think we can look forward to some very good movies in the years to come.

  • MORE | May 12, 2013 12:50 AMReply

    The marketing was terrible. Those billboards with the three cooning faces blown up like mugshots. That dead on arrival trailer. It's not the directors faculty that the studio failed in this respect.

  • More | May 12, 2013 12:51 AM

    Faculty = Fault

  • FactChecker | May 12, 2013 12:41 AMReply

    Well, it tanked. No surprise. Didn't look funny at all. What's more, no one was buying that someone like Kerry Washington would be interested in marrying someone like Craig Robinson.

  • CareyCarey | May 10, 2013 4:41 PMReply

    Smell that? You smell that?

    "What? Napalm?"

    No, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. That's a black woman and I love the smell of a black woman in the morning, at lunch and in the evening. You know, one time I had...

    Opps, I almost got carried away, but what would I do without JAI TIGGETT? Well, I'll tell you. When I needed a movie suggestion/opinion, Rodger Ebert was my go to man. But when the movie had black characters, and thus a little blackness that might have eluded him, he failed miserably.

    Now that Rodger has picked up his ticket to the big play house, I thought I'd stretch my wings. Well, I stopped by Leonard Maltin and Dan Smokies house. You know, 2 IndieWire fellows. Now I ain't tryin' to be all racist and thangs, but them boys talk just alike. Yeah, I dropped by to see what Leonard & Smokey had to say about "Peeples". Low-n-behold, them boys was saying the same things. I don't know if Leonard copied off Smokey or Smokey took a peek at Mr. Maltin paper, but they sure had the same smell.

    Then I arrived at Jai Tiggett's house. That's right, that name even smells black, don't it? So I sat down to see what she had to say about Peeples and the crew. Sure enough, she came with the real thang. But like I said at Smokey's post, I didn't stay too long. I mean, right out of the box she hit my sweet spot:

    "Admittedly, I too raised an eyebrow at the not-so-enticing trailer. But ultimately Peeples offers lots of laughs, some genuine truths about relationships and a take on black family that has been missing from Hollywood fare for far too long." ~ The Black Chic, Jai Tiggett

    Right there... right there was all I needed to read. She was honest and talked about the nuances of the black family. But I did skim down a little further (not all, but some) and she kept her foot on the right pedal, speaking sweet music to my ear. Y'all can read the post but I am reminded of something a wise man told me. He said if I ever have a problem at the grocery store, don't take my concerns to the stock boy, take 'em to the store manager. Jai is my new store manager and I can't wait to see my peeples, in "Peeples".

  • JEFTCG | May 12, 2013 2:14 PM

    LOLOL good comeback....

  • Pootie-Tang | May 12, 2013 8:48 AM

    Hey JEFTCG, it's me, CareyCarey. Hey man, I wanna thank you for dat sa da tay! I mean, I never know what the f*** I'm talking about. So ain't come one, but many tine tanies!

  • jeftcg | May 12, 2013 3:12 AM

    CareyCarey, I would suggest you change your on-screen name to Pootie-Tang as I never know what the f*** you're talking about.

  • Everybody | May 12, 2013 12:47 AM

    You're annoying.

  • Donella | May 10, 2013 1:36 PMReply

    I believe this movie will be a case of the student surpassing the teacher.

  • donnadara | May 10, 2013 12:34 PMReply

    I really want to see this movie, but I don't know if I can get over "The Tyler Perry Presents" label.

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