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A Sort of, Maybe Jewish Movie

‘Peep World,’ out next week, is sort of maybe worth your time

Stephanie Butnick
March 16, 2011
From Peep World.(IMDB)
From Peep World.(IMDB)

After reading one groan-inducing description of the new film Peep World—“an all-star cast gives new meaning to dysfunctional Jewish families”—I couldn’t help but brace myself for yet another 90 minutes (89, actually) of Jewish stereotypes tediously trafficked in the name of comedy. Now I’ve seen Peep World, and it is annoying, but not for the reasons I expected.

In fact, on paper (that description) aside, the movie sounded appealing. The plot (the four Meyerowitz siblings prepare for their father’s 70th birthday dinner in the wake of the just-published-by-youngest-son-family-tell-all) seemed new and different enough to sustain a funny, lively narrative. And the cast! Rainn Wilson (of Dwight Schrute fame), Dexter star Michael C. Hall, and sharp-tongued comedian Sarah Silverman play variously troubled siblings dealing with the aftermath of youngest brother Nathan (charming-even-though-his-character-is-a-total-jerk Ben Schwartz)’s bestselling book, Peep World. Sadly, the characters fall flat in four individual, divergent story lines that aren’t fleshed out enough. On the bright side, at least the problem isn’t the Jewish thing!

Sarah Silverman’s character, Cheri Meyerowitz, is the most stereotyped, and “Jewish,” of the ensemble, and she goes all out—as perhaps only she can—to embody middle-child Cheri in all her bratty, obnoxious whininess. It is truly irritating, as I imagine Silverman thoroughly intended, to watch her failed-actress character shriek at her mother and demand back-up her in her libel lawsuit against Nathan. In Cheri’s defense, the film adaptation of Peep World (the film based on the novel within the movie, all with the same name—got that?) is filming outside her window, and the actress playing the film version of Cheri is her father’s new girlfriend. Tough times.

But aside from the stereotyped Cheri (and her inexplicable Jews for Jesus pal, played by Steven Tobolowsky), there is little reference to Judaism throughout the film, and I don’t think any mention at all that the family is Jewish, save for their surname. Cue sigh of relief.

Also worth mentioning is the stellar supporting cast, who play characters more realistic and dimensional than the Meyerowitz siblings. Judy Greer, whose sidekick presence alone makes any film worth seeing, is one of the highlights. Plus, her character is married to Michael C. Hall’s: Awesome couple alert. Taraji P. Henson and Kate Mara shine as Wilson and Schwartz’s unlikely dinner companions.

While I took solace in the fact that not every character in the film (directed by Barry W. Blaustein, who directed The Ringer and wrote Coming to America) was a Jewish stereotype, I wish Peep World had stepped up its narrative game and developed the main characters more fully.

Peep World Trailer

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.