Playing like the pilot for a sitcom that attempts to meld Arrested Development with The Royal Tenenbaums, Barry Blaustein's Peep World takes a very long time to get to its best elements -- and then, just as it gets there, the credits roll.
The Meyerwitz family is a living, breathing case study in dysfunction, and the hatred, bitterness, and recriminations threaten to boil over as the clan gathers for the annual birthday party thrown in honor of unctuous patriarch Henry (Ron Rifkin), a wealthy construction baron. What has everyone on edge is the publication of "Peep World," a truthful, and thinly veiled, novel about their family's messed up lives written by youngest son Nathan (Ben Schwartz), an egomaniacal celebrity with a serious premature ejaculation problem. Dutiful oldest son Jack (Michael C. Hall) tries to plan the party while his architecture business is falling apart, black sheep Joel (Rainn Wilson) owes lots of scary people money, and bitchy Cheri (Sarah Silverman) plans a lawsuit against Nathan because of her portrayal in the book. As they all sit down for an expensive meal, the grown children start arguing with each other, until one of them finally finds the voice to confront their dad about his lackluster nurturing skills.
Clocking in at just about 80 minutes, Peep World takes a full hour to get us to that effectively disturbing dinner party, and sadly almost every scene before that climactic gathering feels like it belongs in a lazily written, supposedly edgy comedy -- the kind of series Showtime or HBO would air if it were sharper. Sequences like the disastrous public reading that Nathan performs right after an especially effective treatment for his medical issue, and Jack's wife catching him in a compromising position, work mostly because the actors are game, but the writing isn't imaginative enough to make us laugh at the grotesqueness or care about the characters.
However, the penultimate scene -- when everybody faces off at the table -- comes to life thanks in large part to the aggressively sour performance by Ron Rifkin. He turns Henry into such a formidable yet plausible beast that we actually start to forgive the kids their repulsive flaws and find ourselves caring about them. Rifkin and Hall dominate the very long sequence, but every one of the actors has at least one good moment, and Taraji P. Henson, playing Joel's empathetic girlfriend, gets several. For the 15 minutes or so of screen time during which this dinner from hell transpires, Peep World is a real movie. The rest of the time it feels like a TV pilot for a show that's wasting a very talented cast.