Tyler Perry Presents Peeples
dir. Tina Gordon Chism
Release Date: May 10, 13
Peeples, in its longer form, is actually called Tyler Perry Presents Peeples, the shortened version of the film’s original title, Tyler Perry Presents Meet the Peeples. That last one was probably a bit too on-the-nose about this film being an in-depth homage to Meet the Parents. You know, a serious homage. The kind of homage where most of the characters are lifted wholesale and updated for a different audience. With the same hokey jokes. Over a decade later. There’s something inherently flawed about the idea of a film that’s a remake of a hyper-successful, not particularly old film for a niche audience, because virtually the only audience for Peeples is anyone who didn’t see Meet the Parents already. And by the numbers, that doesn’t amount to very many peeples.
Despite Wade (Craig Robinson) and Grace’s (Kerry Washington) long-term relationship seemingly being in for the long haul, Grace has never bought Wade home to meet her family. Determined to propose in the near future, Wade throws caution to the wind and surprises Grace and the rest of the Peeples at their lakeside home, only to discover that Grace has never told her family about a boyfriend at all, let alone one with a ring in his pocket. Immediately Peeples strikes the wrong tone; Grace is completely let off the hook for lying to Wade, and the joke is put on Wade instead of her or her family. Which, as these movies tend to dictate, is a wacky cast of characters. Mama Peeples (S. Epatha Merkerson) is a former disco diva who still enjoys some of her 70s vices, Simon (Tyler James Williams) is torn between his rich upbringing and his desire for the respect conferred by “swag,” Gloria (Kali Hawk) is openly gay to everyone except her family. They’re less characters than plot developments, bouncing off Wade one at a time in order to move the story to its inevitable series of revelations.
And then there’s Daddy. Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier) is supposed to be the wizened DeNiro of the family, the ultimate litmus test for any outsiders hoping to enter. But where DeNiro once struck the balance between antagonism and a genuine sense of familial concern, Virgil just comes off like a Machiavellian lunatic. It’s no fault of Grier’s; when he gets to play around, he’s hilarious, and his timing makes some of his terrible dialogue pop more than it deserves. The blame here is fully owed to writer-director Tina Gordon Chism’s screenplay, which renders Virgil such a cruel caricature that instead of laughing with or even at him, you’ll more likely be moved to cringe at how terrible he is to every member of his family. His children have turned out a group of obsessive one-uppers, he treats his wife’s once-passionate career with scorn and regularly keeps secrets about his nighttime dealings from his family. That’s to say nothing of the deeply unsettling moment in which Wade and Grace try to enjoy some student-teacher roleplay, only for Grace to continually refer to Wade as “Daddy” while Virgil inadvertently watches from outside.
These wrong notes ultimately sink Peeples, and the middle-of-the-road performances don’t help. Other than Grier, Robinson is the only other performer who actually brings some life to the movie. Though he’s sometimes prone to over-mugging (as with a scene where an old-style disco headdress brings on a hallucinatory reverie), Robinson is at least a master of deadpan delivery, which serves him well when he’s allowed to employ it. Washington is largely wasted here, normally a hugely charming screen presence but only required to look panicked and/or sad for the brunt of the runtime. Peeples largely just goes through the motions: Wade is continually buried, lessons are learned, family bonds are strengthened. One can only wonder why even Perry, normally the definition of middle-of-the-road, would back a film like this. If he wants to make movies for a notoriously underserved part of the filmgoing public, that’s noble, but fare this insulting to its audience’s intelligence isn’t a great place to start.