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Peeples Delivers Farce Without Compromising Realism

Recently, African-American-directed relationship movies have hewed toward either incongruous absurdity (Think Like a Man), overt sentimentality (Jumping the Broom), or, in Tyler Perry's work, both. Long gone feel the days of complex films like Two Can Play That Game, Mark Brown's modern screwball comedy that provided hilarity alongside a clear-eyed critique of romantic battle. Writer/director Tina Gordon Chism's Peeples lacks the energy of Two Can Play That Game, but like that picture, it manages to deliver farce without compromising realism. Craig Robinson (The Office) stars as Wade Walker, a musician who shows up uninvited at his girlfriend's parents' house for the weekend, planning to win the approval of her father, Virgil (David Alan Grier), and propose. (Kerry Washington plays the betrothed-to-be.) Unfortunately, Wade hardly fits in with what he terms Virgil's "chocolate Kennedys" lifestyle, and the expected sparks get to flying. Peeples finds effective comedy exploring secrets underneath the familial "perfection" Virgil assiduously cultivates, via his closeted lesbian daughter (Kali Hawk) and thieving son, Simon (Tyler James Williams), a nerd who thinks he must establish thuggish bona fides and insists on being called "Sy." However, physical comedy set pieces, like an elaborate fraternity dance Virgil performs, feel uninspired. Malcolm Barrett is given a plum role as Wade's wacky sidekick but fails to knock it out of the park as Mike Epps or Anthony Anderson would have once done. Yet while she doesn't quite achieve the screwball zaniness she strives for, Chism deserves commendation for crafting a farcical work that feels like it concerns real characters.
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Zachary Wigon

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