Movie Review: Emile Hirsch keeps it all on the surface in “Peel”


The strain of achieving “twee” shows in far too many scenes and moments in the arrested development/coming of aged dramedy “Peel.” It may offer Emile Hirsch a chance to recreate his tweens even though he’s in his mid-30s. But there is little if anything of consequence that comes out of this grasping, gasping overreach for daft.

Even the big overarching theme — a broken family mended by revisiting that breaking point — is inconsequential in the extreme.

“Peel” is a kid whose childhood consisted of meekly playing along with his rough and tumble brothers, drinking Orange-zina (think “Tang”) and being doted on by his hippy mom.

Mom (Amy Brenneman) gets into rows with Dad (Victor Verhaeghe) over how she’s sheltering and home-schooling their youngest, shortest and only redheaded child. That leads Dad to take brothers Will and Sam and leave, never to make contact again.

Twenty-five years later, Mom has crawled into a bottle, with Peel (Emile Hirsch) in charge of mixing her vodka and Orange-zina cocktails. He’s eccentric, something of an artist, and utterly naive to the ways of the world outside their yard. He can’t even tell the cute Korean-American neighbor (Angelina Joo) is sweet on him.

We can. We can also tell that he’s entirely too old for her, physically if not socially.

Then Mom dies. Peel is left on his own, no visible means of support and a mortgage to pay. And so he rents out a room to the first musclehead who rolls by in a 1970s Gremlin.

Jack Kesy of “12 Strong” and TV’s “Claws” plays Roy as a sort of good ol’boy Ryan Gosling. He chain smokes, sports a crew-cut with a cute little Bieber tail and drawls, mostly about women.” ‘Ritas” he calls them — short for “senoritas.”

“I’m-o teach you every Godd—-d thing you need to know to attract the opposite sex!”

With Roy comes Chuck (Jacob Vargas), whom Roy labels a “Professor…with a “Degree from the University of Adversity.” Chuck refuses to speak English, and purrs poetic observations, opinions and insults at Peel in Spanish, which Peel doesn’t understand.

Chad (Garrett Clayton) is a third new roomie/renter, the college guy who can help populate their parties with lots of lovely ‘Ritas. Or so Roy figures.

That first party has Peel blowing up condoms because he thinks they’re balloons, with Chuck feeding drinks to “El hombre de la casa” (Peel) and Chun Ja (Joo) and her Korean cousin Jooeun (Hana Hwang) dancing to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” with Peel.

But that cannot distract the easily-distracted Peel from his need to fill the gaping hole in his life. He needs to find his brothers. And being too naive to know how to do that, he’s going to need help.

I’m scanning back over my notes for “Peel,” scraping up the not-even-a-handful of jokes and situations and marveling how anybody could get a 100 minute movie out of this.

It’s an enervated film, with Hirsch tasked with being the irony-impaired naif who just reacts and misreads every human interaction he has.

Visiting Mom’s lawyer (producer and sometime actor Ray Bouderau) produces a wry grin or two. What can Peel do with a house, a mortgage and no job or living on his own skills?

“I don’t know. I’m not a life coach, son.”

“Do you think you could help me find my brothers?” earns an elaborate dismissal, just a lawyer writing on a slip of paper, folding it up several times and turning it over to Peel.

The numbers “411” are all he wrote.

Kesy provides comic counterpoint as tactless horndog Roy, who greets Chun Ha at the door by calling back to his landlord — “Hey Peel, your math tutor’s here.”

It’s just that there’s too little for everybody to play, too much effort in emphasizing how eccentric and gifted Peel is supposed to be, with only the odd bit of evidence for either.

The characters, from the roommates to Peel’s family, all have the potential to be made interesting. Chuck, for instance, is a race handicapper and Roy an inveterate gambler. There’s an avenue ripe for comic situations. Screenwriter Troy Hall and director Rafael Monserrate do nothing with it. They’re hell bent getting us to the third act with mere hints of “twee” to sustain us until they do.

That potential is turned inconsequential at every turn.

Hirsch is a gifted comic actor and could have made a lot more out of this unworldly guy who draws and snorkels obsessively and gets his hair cut about as often as Johnny Depp.

And no, a few sweet moments in the final act don’t paper over the emptiness that precedes them. “Peel” is just as its title suggests, a movie that’s all surface peel and no substance.


MPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references, and for some drug content

Cast: Emile Hirsch, , Shiloh Fernandez, Amy Brenneman, Jack Kesy and Yaya DaCosta

Credits: Directed by Rafael Monserrate, script by Troy Hall. A Sony Pictures release.

Running time: 1:41



About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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