Drumline and ATL screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism makes the leap to the director’s chair with Peeples, a gentle family comedy that’s as flawed as its titular family is dysfunctional, yet just breezy (and brief) enough to earn a pass from families looking for a few laughs. Though there’s precious little in Chism’s paint-by-numbers script that we haven’t seen in countless domestic comedies before, her debut feature benefits greatly from the charms of Craig Robinson in the lead role of the boyfriend who’s eager to please, even as talented veteran David Alan Grier is left treading water in an attempt to bring his character -- a stuffy, disapproving father -- to life.
Wade Walker (Robinson) may not be a blue blood, but he loves Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington) and he's eager to propose. Convinced that his best bet is to make his move while Grace's entire family are present, Wade boldly invites himself to their luxurious lake house in Sag Harbor, NY, and tries to make a good impression while waiting for just the right moment to pop the question. While earning the respect of Grace’s father Virgil (Grier) won’t be easy, the good-natured boyfriend quickly learns that he’s not the only one in the house with a secret: Grace’s sister Gloria (Kali Hawk) has also been planning a big announcement for the weekend, and her brilliant but socially awkward brother Simon (Tyler James Williams) seems bound and determined to be taken seriously as a thug. Meanwhile, as Sag Harbor’s annual Moby Dick Day celebrations draw near, Wade’s unpredictable brother Chris (Malcolm Barrett) shows up unannounced, and makes a better impression on Virgil than expected while setting his sights on the lovely Gloria. Though it soon starts to look like Wade will never find the perfect moment to propose, over the course of an eventful weekend he learns that he may fit in better with the dysfunctional yet well-to-do clan than he could have ever anticipated.
Although cynical critics will certainly deride Peeples for Chism’s lackluster directorial skills and pedestrian screenplay, it’s undeniable that she knows her audience and does her best to give them exactly what they want. So while her debut feature may never be hailed as a comedy classic or even an undiscovered gem, its decided lack of pretense is part of what makes Peeples passably endearing despite its sometimes pronounced shortcomings. Chism seems to have zero sense as a director of comic timing or spatial relations (a scene in which Wade makes a shocking discovery about Grace’s stern father is almost disorienting in its ineptitude), and though the film’s idea of a “wacky” final set piece somewhat disturbingly plays a drug-fueled murder attempt for laughs, it’s never as if Peeples fails to live up to any great intellectual concept posed in the opening act, so its flaws are somewhat easier to forgive. Sure, Chism’s debut may be wholly unremarkable, but that’s hardly a crime against cinema or comedy -- it’s a modest failure that any decent first-time director would use as a learning tool. Her greatest transgression is wasting the talents of Robinson and Grier, and relegating the great Melvin Van Peebles to a glorified cameo. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan