There are certain actors out there who elevate otherwise average material. For the sake of clarity, let's just name a few of them, if only to get us all on the same page: John Krasinski, Aubrey Plaza, Mark Ruffalo, Emma Stone … and now, Craig Robinson. He's officially joined the crew. These cats are extremely likable, much like the person who holds the door for you when your arms are full of groceries. This likability phenomenon is a critical asset utilized by "Peeples," for in the hands of less pleasant persons this little movie would have slipped right off a cliff. In the end, even though the plot is threadbare, the conceit obvious, and the material well trodden, it's an eminently watchable film because of Craig Robinson (as Wade), and his leading lady Kerry Washington (as Grace Peeples). This duo, along with a steady supporting cast, makes "Peeples" into a far more enjoyable experience than it has any business being; there are at least a dozen laughs to be found, made possible only because you're invested in the personalities involved.
The story here can easily be summed up by a 30-second trailer, or heck, even the poster. Wade wants to propose to Grace, but he (understandably) wants to meet her family first. Unbeknownst to her, he travels to Sag Harbor to surprise her and the fam, of course hoping to garner Poppa Peeple's approval in the process. Naturally, there's the point of tension, for Judge Peeples (David Alan Grier) wants zero to do with giving up his little girl, and he'll stop at nothing to intimidate and emasculate young Wade. The supporting cast is filled out with the traditional wacky comedy mores, from the klepto younger brother (Simon, played by Tyler Jones Williams) to the recovering alcoholic mother (Daphne, played by S. Epatha Merkerson), but some credit must be given to the overall quirk level on display, as it is a few degrees more clever than normal staid comedy filler.
Throw in actor Malcolm Barrett (as Wade's brother, Chris) and you're left with a very capable group making the best of every situation. Indeed, it's in the moments where "Peeples" isn't trying so hard that it works pretty well, when they go too hard at the comedy rim it feels like the same old drag. During the worst moments, massively forced, a dog humps Wade and there are songs about children peeing. Conversely, when "Peeples" is at its best there's lively interplay between the characters, showing off comedic timing done right.
Unfortunately, the third act of "Peeples" has numerous issues. Whatever the opposite of a meet-cute is, let's call it a "break-up-dull," is thrown at the audience with little care or innovation. Of course "Peeples" must go this route, because every romantic / familial comedy must have some false note of tension or else it's not allowed to exist, but it makes for a mostly putrid 20 minute segment. "Engagement interruptus" is the symbolic calling card of a writer throwing up his or her hands, and it's precisely the route "Peeples" heads down. You know that thing where a main character is about to make a speech, only to be interrupted by something, thus completely foiling their plan?
"Peeples" has a few metric tons of this action happening, wildly annoying, if only because it's so detached from reality. There's never been a moment in anyone's life where someone said, "I need to tell you guys something!" followed by someone else dropping a dish, and then no one going back to say, "Now what were you getting at?" It's a preposterous method, this brazen attempt at miscommunication, and I'm not sure if it was ever effective, at any point in cinema history. Everyone should stop doing this immediately; let's make "Peeples" the last example of it we ever see. The rule should be as follows: if you can think of a point of tension in less than a minute, and yet you've never seen it happen in real life, then you should probably just scrap the whole idea and think of something better. That's not too much to ask of a professional, right?
Still, luckily, "Peeples" saves itself from a complete belly flop, by the barest of margins, by leaning heavily on its initial strength of good-natured charm. This is an impossible film to hate, it's nowhere near awful enough, and it passes the time in an acceptably speedy manner. No, this won't be the movie that film students turn to, and it won't end up as anyone's "Best Comedy of 2013!" but it strings together ten and fifteen minute bursts at a time of real silliness. Like most people you're liable to meet on a day-to-day basis, "Peeples" isn't so bad.
SCORE: 6.5 / 10
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and enjoys Sag Harbor immensely.