Perfection is a high standard. Far too high for most of us. (For all of us.) But for the Peeples family, perfection isn't just a lofty ideal that's meant to inspire. It's a way of life that's expected … a way of life modeled, demanded and enforced by a crack-the-whip patriarch, the accomplished and distinguished federal judge Virgil Peeples.
The Peeples' perfection is personified by many things, not the least of which is the family's sprawling beach house in Sag Harbor, N.Y., a picturesque seaside hamlet in the Hamptons. It's the kind of house you can only get to via private road … or by boat. And it's the kind of house—and the kind of life—Wade Walker doesn't have any experience with.
This poses a significant problem, because Wade's eager to meet the Peeples after a year of dating (and living with) Virgil's favorite daughter, Grace, who works as a lawyer for the United Nations.
"Grace, it's been a year. It's time I met your folks," Wade tells her as she prepares to head to Sag Harbor for the community's annual Moby Dick festival.
"We have been through this," she responds. "Daddy would pick you apart."
"Share the chocolate Kennedys," Wade implores, glancing at a family portrait showcasing the Peeples' polished perfection.
But Grace isn't just stalling for time when she talks about how harsh her father will be. She knows the man won't think much of Wade's chosen vocation: imparting psychological insights to children through ridiculously silly songs.
What Grace doesn't know is that Wade is ready to propose.
So when Wade laments her departure for the weekend, his brother, Chris, encourages him to man up, show up, introduce himself and ask Virgil for the chance to see his daughter in a veil.
Wade takes his brother's advice. And in the process, his unpretentious approach to life peels back the Peeples' pristine facade … revealing a dysfunctional, secret-keeping family that isn't nearly as perfect as its fearlessly overbearing leader wants to believe it is.
Wade is a big-hearted guy with dreams of eventually getting a doctorate in child psychology. At the moment, however, he's working as a "Kids Kounselor," seeking to encourage kids to deal with their emotions through his songs. The only such song we hear—repeatedly—compares telling the truth about how you're feeling to going to the bathroom. It's a song that's equal parts sweet and mildly inappropriate, with lyrics such as "Speak it, don't leak it," "Say it, don't spray it" and "Express yourself."
That admonition to be emotionally honest frames the entire film. Because whatever else the perfect Peeples may be, they are not honest. Grace, for instance, has had a long string of boyfriends, none of whom have ever measured up to her father's impossible standards. Thus, she's hiding Wade from him. Wade also learns that she's had breast-augmentation surgery in an effort to compare favorably to the family's other well-endowed members.
Grace's older sister, Gloria, has been keeping her longtime lesbian partner, Meg, away from the clan. Daphne, whom the family thinks of as a recovering alcoholic, still has a penchant for mind-altering drugs. Younger brother Simon, 16, is a kleptomaniac, stealing everything he can to finance a rapper-style image cultivated to impress women. As for Virgil, it turns out his secret is sneaking off to join nudists who swim together late at night.
None of those secrets are flattering or positive, of course. But Wade acts as a kind of accidental catalyst in helping the family come to terms with its entrenched and deceptive ways, which is a good thing. (Except, of course, when it isn't, and the only result of folks fessing up is everybody excusing the salaciousness or sin.)
We also learn that Virgil's Pharisaical perfectionism came from his father: Grandpa Peeples publically berates his son for not becoming the country's first black president, and essentially suggests that his success as a federal judge is meaningless. Clearly, Grandpa Peeples' own impossible standards have filtered down to his son, who was unable to meet them, then processed his own shame by projecting similar standards onto the next generation.
Virgil participates in a Montauk Indian sweat lodge ritual each year. Wade joins him, and we hear of making offerings to the "spirit gods" who "watch over us." In the heat and humidity of the tent, Wade nearly hallucinates and begins quoting the Lord's prayer. Mention is also made of initiation rituals marking the beginning of manhood.
The Peeples are very superstitious when it comes to talking about the possibility of precipitation. God gets irreverently dragged into a confrontation of Simon (over his stealing).
As mentioned, Wade and Grace are cohabiting. And it's clear that Grace tries to deflect conflict in their relationship with sex, as she suggests it twice in the midst of arguments. She dresses up in her skimpy high school cheerleader uniform at one point to seduce Wade. She gives a ruler to him and invites him to spank her because she's "been a bad girl." He does so, as Virgil watches, disgustedly, through the window.
Gloria and Meg are planning to come out as lesbians to the family. Verbal references are made to the ladies' sex life. Gloria "experiments" with Chris, asking her to have sex with her. But when she's not aroused, she invites Meg to join them, triggering a threesome. (Chris is thrilled to participate in the offscreen encounter.) Gloria then fully embraces her homosexual desires. And the family eventually does as well. Nanna Peeples says that there are lots of other lesbians in the family. (By extension, the film suggests audiences should be equally accepting.)
Virgil, meanwhile, has been secretly participating in the town's nudist group after dark. We don't see his groin after he peels off his clothes, but Wade does, and he several times references his inability to get the image of Virgil's genitals out of his mind. The rest of the nudists are shown silhouetted after sunset.
Daphne Peeples is a former pop star whose biggest hit is full of sexually suggestive lyrics. (Wade does sexual hip thrusts to it.) Crude references are made to the male anatomy. Jokes are cracked about augmented "boobies." Chris repeatedly ogles women's backsides. Conversations sometimes revolve around sex and/or adultery. A dog's "mating instinct" compels it to tackle Wade and mount him (off-camera). We see a poster of a thong-clad pinup in Simon's room, and the teen plays with skimpy women's underwear. Several women wear low-cut, cleavage-revealing outfits. Men are seen shirtless and nearly naked in the sweat tent.
Under the accidental influence of hallucinogens, Wade tries unsuccessfully to attack Virgil with a harpoon during the Moby Dick festival. Virgil trips him and sends him over the edge of an old boat in the city park, where Wade lands with a thud and is knocked out.
Wade accidentally sets fire to a Montauk teepee. Virgil's father slugs him in the stomach. Chris and Wade threaten to beat up Simon.
Crude or Profane Language
One indistinct f-word. Five or six s-words. We hear "d‑‑n" (10 or so times) and "a‑‑"/"a‑‑hole" (another 10). There are four or five uses of "d‑‑k." God's name is misused a dozen times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Several characters drink wine and beer. Wade brings a bottle of wine to, he hopes, celebrate a successful engagement. When snooping Simon finds it in his bag and brings it down, however, Wades offers it to Daphne … and finds out from Grace that she's an alcoholic.
At the Moby Dick festival, Wade drinks from a thermos that's marked "Daphne Only." Turns out its contents are infused with potent mushroom-derived ingredients, inducing a hallucination-filled "trip" for the unsuspecting Wade.
Other Negative Elements
Simon's thieving includes him boosting his mother's jewelry and Wade's wallet, among other things. And his mother is naively proud that her son has such a talent for "finding" and turning in stolen purses—relieved of their valuables, of course.
There are some nice moments and messages in Peeples, a manic comedy from Tyler Perry's production company (and co-produced by him). Keeping secrets to maintain an image of perfection is unhealthy business, the film tells us through its cipher and main character, Wade Walker. Indeed, Wade's honest, unpretentious nature stands in stark contrast to the uptight dysfunction prompted by Virgil Peeples' shame-driven perfectionism.
But it's as if Madea herself goosed the script just for the salacious fun of it, because the litany of sexually themed content here is long and sometimes lurid. None of it is ever visually explicit. But viewers are asked to sit through references to a lesbian-inspired threesome, a joking reference to bestiality, senior citizens participating in a clandestine nudist group, a couple playacting S&M spanking, etc.
And don't think that coming clean always means living clean for these peeps, either.
Perfect? Peeples doesn't even try.