Tyler Perry Presents Peeples is not a Tyler Perry movie. It has no schizoid tonal shifts and no speechifying. Its morality isn’t Victorian. Its sexual politics and gender roles aren’t regressive. It takes one of the central premises of Perry’s oeuvre—that every successful black woman needs a powerful man to anchor her life—and inverts it. If Peeples had more bite, it might pass for an underhanded critique of its producer’s work.
Instead, the film comes across as a gentler variation on Meet The Parents. The basic elements are there—the delayed proposal, the unimpressed father, a big to-do in which the protagonist embarrasses himself—but the humor is more affectionate than squirmy. It’s a light and occasionally very funny movie; its critical stance—a goldmine for Perryologists—comes more from context than content.
Craig Robinson stars as a children’s entertainer who shows up unannounced to the home of his live-in girlfriend’s family, intending to propose. Upon arrival, though, Robinson discovers that said girlfriend, a lawyer played by Kerry Washington, has kept their relationship a secret, because she’s afraid of introducing him to her overbearing father, a judge played by David Alan Grier. Robinson also meets the rest of Washington’s family: her ex-disco-star mother (S. Epatha Merkerson), her nerdy brother (Tyler James Williams), and her TV journalist sister (Kali Hawk). The last also has a habit of keeping secrets from dad; she’s a lesbian, and the “best friend” she brings along to family gatherings is actually her partner.
There’s nothing overtly tyrannical about Grier—he’s a fussy, pleated-khakis type who rarely raises his voice—but writer/director Tina Gordon Chism shows his hold over the family in other ways. Her script is perceptive about family vocabulary—the way the siblings use “phase” pejoratively says a lot about their upbringing—and makes good use of suggestive details, like Washington’s history of dating men her father’s age.
All of this probably makes Peeples sound like an ensemble drama, which it isn’t. For the most part, the movie is a vehicle for Robinson’s laidback, teddy-bear charisma, as well as his talent for looking extremely stoned. Over the course of the film, he drinks magic-mushroom tea, hallucinates in a sweat lodge, and gets lost in a disco fantasy after donning one of Merkerson’s headdresses. These freak-outs—as well as sequences involving a bicycle race, a nudist beach, and an awkward dinner—threaten to turn into overlong, reaction-shot-heavy set-pieces. To Chism’s credit, they don’t; Peeples has a brisk pace that ensures that no joke overstays its welcome. Even the movie’s half-dozen musical numbers feel zippy.
Peeples’ aspirations are modest: It’s a formulaic comedy that wants nothing more than to be funny and to present likable characters who seem like real people. For the most part, it succeeds—which makes it one of the smartest and most accomplished films to emerge from under the Perry banner.