★ / ★★★★
Grace (Kerry Washington) decides to go to the Hamptons to visit with her posh family for their annual Moby Dick Day, unaware that Wade (Craig Robinson), her working class boyfriend of about a year, has plans of asking for her hand in marriage. Believing that it is a perfect opportunity to impress the Peeples, none of whom he has met, Wade follows Grace to the beautiful Sag Harbor. But when he gets there, much to his surprise, no one has heard of him before.
The concept of “Peeples,” written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism, is not groundbreaking or fresh but it has the potential to make a statement, while still being funny, about what it means for a person of limited means to possibly become a part of a family that is accustomed to luxury. Instead, the screenplay relies on the same boring tropes involving the main character always saying or doing the wrong thing at the worst time. Initially, it is mildly amusing. Over time, however, it makes for an empty experience.
Robinson playing the lead is not utilized in such a way that really takes advantage of his talent. I enjoy his screen presence because he looks like a huggable teddy bear that you want to get to know. Instead, the screenplay chooses a safe route. Time and again it is shown that Wade is a nice guy. However, making him so nice makes it appear as though the character does not have any dimension. Robinson gets a chance to showcase his talent, especially when he is asked to sing (even the silly songs), but his presence is crippled by the typicalities that are borderline maddening.
The jokes are repetitive and forced. While David Alan Grier, playing Grace’s father who also happens to be a federal judge, is convincing as an intimidating man of the house, there is no element of surprise in the way he treats Wade. Of course we know Virgil is going to disapprove of the relationship; we also know that he will do whatever it takes to make Wade feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. Otherwise, there is no conflict. But what cannot be overlooked is the material’s lack of ambition to really say something worthwhile about real people with respect to their social positions. It treats us like we do not have the ability or motivation to think about what is happening on screen.
By the end, though each of the member of the family gets some screen time, we we only know their superficial quirks. In my eyes, Grace’s mother is worth looking into most. Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson) is a recovering alcoholic and a former professional singer. Merkerson lights up the screen; I wished the writer-director made a better movie about her instead. Notice the difference between hackneyed scenes designed to inspire laughter from the audience and simple but genuine conversations about music and the past as the camera focuses on Wade and Daphne. We deserve more of the latter.
Though “Peeples” is Chism’s first feature film, putting out subpar work like this is no excuse. On the contrary, because this is her directorial debut, one would think she would have aspired to create something she could be proud of. This is so run-of-the-mill, surely she is capable, if she is lucky enough, to put out a much better sophomore effort.