Writer/director Tina Gordon Chism doesn’t strive for any originality with her new film Peeples. It’s basically Jay Roach’s Meet The Parents with an African-American cast, but thanks to an impressive collection of performances and strong characters, ir manages to be a pretty enjoyable experience all the same.
The story centers on Wade Walker (Craig Robinson), a children’s entertainer and aspiring psychologist living in New York City with his lovely girlfriend Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington). Wade wants to propose to her, but he wants to ask her father’s permission first – a complicated situation made more difficult when Grace refuses to let the two of them meet. When she travels to a family event in Sag Harbor, New York without him, he decides to take some initiative and secretly follows her there to try and win the Peeples’ approval. Unfortunately, Wade underestimates the strictness of Grace’s dad, Federal Judge Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier), and the hero finds himself fighting an uphill battle to win his prospective father-in-law's approval.
Peeples is never boring, especially since it runs a tight 95 minutes, but it constantly leans on every cliché available within its overdone story. Not only is there the strict patriarchal figure with a scary profession - a clone of De Niro’s character in Meet The Parents
With this kind of setup the audience really needs to connect with the lead in order for them to remain engaged with the story, and Robinson suits the job well. While his career has mostly consisted of TV work and supporting roles, with Peeples he becomes a legitimate leading man with an overflow of likability and comedic presence. He’s backed up by some great supporting actors as well, primarily Washington, Malcolm Barrett (who plays Wade’s bad advice-giving brother), and S. Epatha Merkerson (as Grace’s oddball mother). As an ensemble they elevate the predictable material and make it worth watching.
What the script lacks in creative storytelling is actually partially made up for with some surprisingly strong characters. Wade is written as a very genial guy, but with moral convictions that play out consistently throughout the story. The movie does surprising things with Grace as well. Throughout the film it’s revealed that she has hid some important details about her life from Wade, making her seem duplicitous and unsympathetic, but Chism rides the line well and gives the relationship between the two a distinctive flavor. The screenplay is well crafted for the actors in the lead roles and it adds an interesting complexity to the movie.
Similar to how 2003’s Love Don’t Cost A Thing was a remake of 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love, Peeples is a familiar story that’s simply been rebranded to appeal to a new demographic – but they could have done a much worse job. At the very least we can hope that it leads to Craig Robinson getting bigger and better roles.