Tyler Perry is credited as a producer on "Peeples," but don't let that scare you away. Written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism, "Peeples" is witty, charming and light, standing apart from the heavy-handed moralizing of so many of Perry's own movies.
Its upbeat freshness is also distinctive from the bitter flavor of so many recent Hollywood rom-coms.
Chism finds new twists in a fairly standard premise: as Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington) is reluctant to introduce her boyfriend to her father. Her beau, Wade (Craig Robinson), is a children's singer whose most popular song, "Speak It (Don't Leak It)," encourages kids to use the bathroom. Her father (David Alan Grier) isn't just judgmental, he actually is a federal judge.
The bulk of the story is set amid the upscale enclave of the Peeples family's summer home, creating something of the casual bourgeois feel of a Nancy Meyers movie. S. Epatha Merkerson as Grace's mother and Tyler James Williams as her teenage brother provide capable comedic support.
A sub-story involving Grace's sister (Kali Hawk) and her reluctance to come out to the family is handled in a way that feels pleasantly nonjudgmental on all sides.
When Melvin Van Peebles walks on as Grandpa Peeples it is funny in many ways, as a pun on his own name, as a tweak of Perry-esque literalism, as well as a tip of the hat to an African American independent filmmaker of an earlier generation. Van Peebles brings the perfect amount of grumpy gravitas as he dresses down Grier's character in just a few lines.
Diahann Carroll as the family's grandmother matriarch is an equally smart piece of casting.
Washington, long a reliable presence too often asked to do a lot with too little material, has been on a tremendous recent career upswing thanks to TV's "Scandal" and "Django Unchained." She handles the female lead here with her typical grace and ease. Robinson, best known for his role on "The Office," makes for a convincing Everyman.
And a frisky scene involving an old schoolgirl uniform, knee socks and a ruler encapsulates both the exuberant playfulness of the movie as well as Washington and Robinson's strong, natural chemistry.
Perry deserves credit for using his resources to create space for another voice to be heard. Yet focusing on Perry, limp studio rom-coms and all the things that "Peeples" is not perhaps undersells all that it is — an infectious, warm comedy of family and communication and a promising debut as writer-director for Chism. These "Peeples" are people one should be happy to meet.
Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexuality and drug content
Running time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
Playing: In wide release