Movie Review: PEEPLES Succeeds Far More Than Expected

Don't let Tyler Perry's name scare you away from this solid comedy.

I don't want to get into hyperbole over Peeples. It's a really good comedy, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I'm tempted to call it a great comedy, but I realize that distinction only exists in comparison with most other Hollywood comedies. In fact, most of Peeples made me realize how pessimistic I have become when it comes to mainstream funny movies in general. It's not a film that made me laugh my ass off, but I bet there were over a hundred jokes lobbed at me, and almost all of them were clever and well executed and worth appreciation.

It's important to point out right up front that this is a very modest, medium-sized movie. It's a light comedy, a feel good film. Thankfully, there's no didactic lesson at the end, but the stakes are pretty low. It's the kind of film designed for everyday people to watch with ease and enjoy after a hard day's work. That only sounds like a bad thing because so many movies screw it up. This one doesn't.

As you can probably tell from the trailer and maybe even the poster, Peeples is a unabashed Meet the Parents ripoff. I'm okay with that, especially since it's so much better than Parents. Craig Robinson's Wade goes through the film with unwavering honesty and puts up with his humiliations with a much more graceful confidence than Ben Stiller's character did. David Alan Grier lacks the comic gravity emitted by Robert De Niro, but he's also playing a more openly hostile, weirder character.

And then there's everyone else, a cast of characters who make their Meet the Parents counterparts look like cardboard cutouts by comparison. Everyone - the ex-alcoholic, ex-R&B singer mom, the auto tuning genius kleptomaniac little brother, the gay sister - has stuff going on, all of which contributes both to an effortless flow structurally and tons of witty jokes based solely on character. This is a very well written, well acted film.

But it is Craig Robinson who holds the film together. If you like Robinson at all, you'll like him here. This film showcases his natural charm and comedy skills far better than Hot Tub Time Machine did. The bigger surprise, however, comes from Kerry Washington, who knocks her comedic performance out of the park, even going a little weirder than you'd expect in some scenes. It's her character who gets an arc rather than Robinson's. Kerry not only sells her strangely conflicted character as a whole, but sells her character's attraction to Craig Robinson, too, which is the kind of thing that should be obviously important, yet almost never manifests itself in this sort of comedy.

Of course, Peeples' biggest surprise is when Melvin Van Peebles shows up and blows your mind.

I don't know what I was expecting with Peeples, but it really surprised me. From the very first moments (when the film introduces one of its best running gags - a song Robinson sings to toddlers about why they shouldn't pee on each other) I found Peeples not just funny but charming and pleasant as well. Now that I've seen it and it's actually good, I'm really worried everyone will ignore it because it's being sold as a Tyler Perry film.

So for a while, I was thinking about enticing people to see Peeples by pointing out the fact that it was written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism and that Tyler Perry had nothing to do with it. In fact, Perry could never in a million years make a movie this good. If Tyler Perry weren't Tyler Perry, he'd probably be extremely jealous of what Chism has achieved here. But since he's Tyler Perry he's probably extremely proud of Chism instead.

In a way, though, I'm not sure omitting Tyler Perry's involvement is fair or accurate. While nowhere near as ribald and "dark" as something like The Hangover, Peeples feels far more independent and free from convention than films like that or Horrible Bosses or whatever other big R-rated comedy you want to come up with. If Tyler Perry gave Tina Gordon Chism what she needed to make this film and make it the way she wanted (there is no forced religion or morality anywhere to be found), then perhaps we have finally found the avenue through which Tyler Perry can actually do good in this world. To know for sure, Peeples needs to be a little hit. So you should see it. Take your mom. She'll love the film, and she missed you so.