Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
It is a truth universally known that Pez is a disgusting candy that no one actually likes. It tastes like chalk that somehow lost all its flavour and it’s shaped like a depressed brick that hates itself. The only reason that they’ve sold so well (and this is merely an opinion) is due to the undeniably clever and adorable design of the Pez dispensers. These dispensers are obscenely popular, chances are good that you have one somewhere in your house even if you’ve never actually bought one… and, naturally, they have an entire underground system of collectors who go to insane lengths to get all the rarest Pez dispensers. You would think that a group of Pez dispenser collectors would be boring and not have any remotely exciting stories… The Pez Outlaw is here to prove you dead wrong.
The Pez Outlaw tells the thrilling story of Steve Glew, your average Michigan man who stumbles upon a gold mine. See, Steve has found out about the wild world of Pez collectors and how much they would pay for some incredibly rare Pez. He learns about a secret factory in Eastern Europe where there are some Pez dispensers that have never been released in the US, therefore making them incredibly valuable to collectors. Taking a risk, Steve gets on a plane and goes to find this factory and begins an epic adventure that will include smuggling, bribery and intervention by the Pezident.
The Pez Outlaw is, without hyperbole, one of the funniest documentaries that have been released in recent years. The story it’s telling is, objectively, bonkers and the film completely understands that so it embraces it with the stylistic choices it makes. A large amount of the film is wild recreations of events that borrow imagery from other films, the Pez factory becomes a Willy Wonka-esque world, the smuggling moments look like spy thrillers – and it all works.
The story is already so weird that it requires this heightened tone to match the story and it uses it well, making everything as cinematic as humanly possible while never forgetting that this all revolves around Pez dispensers which creates a hilarious juxtaposition. There’s also just some amazing comic timing, like The Pez Outlaw knows where the big laugh moments are so it knows to pause and let the laughter happen before rolling on to the next insane thing that happens in this absolutely insane story.
In between all these recreations are some great interviews with Steve, his family and other major collectors of Pez dispensers and while those elements are able to provide some absolutely gut-busting comedy they’re also where the real heart of The Pez Outlaw lies. It’s where you really get to know the family that supported Steve in his insane journey and the love that they share is undeniable and so pure that you will be welling up at some point. It almost feels like the film pulled a cruel trick, making you laugh your ass off with these people and making you fall in love with them only to punch you in the face with sweetness.
The Pez Outlaw’s ability to balance the comedy with sincerity is stunning, even though it is almost entirely a comedy and it’s doing everything it can to make you laugh, it knows exactly when to pull back and let the reality of the situation sink in… which is not easy in a film where you have to spend time talking about how someone called the Pezident desperately tried to stop a Pez smuggler who was importing dispensers that looked like a guy blowing a bubble, but somehow this film pulls it off. It never feels like the change in tone is too quick or underserved, it flows between tones with effortless ease.
The Pez Outlaw is just a joy to watch, hilarious and wild with a strong undercurrent of sweetness that will have you rolling on the floor laughing, crying and cheering for the underdog. It’s a story of smuggling, of living your dreams, of doing anything to provide for your family and of a glorious, strange subculture all rolled into one. A truly magical movie that just charms you effortlessly with every wild moment that happens… all this joy and hilarity because of goddamn Pez!