Movie Review (SIFF 2022): ‘The Pez Outlaw’ is a Stranger Than Fiction Documentary
Directors: Amy Bandlien Storkel, Bryan Storkel
Synopsis: Steve Glew spent the 1990s smuggling rare pez dispensers into the USA from Eastern Europe, making millions of dollars. It was all magical until his arch-nemesis, The Pezident decided to destroy him.
Comedy has mined the documentary format for so long because when people are in a room talking to a camera, they often let their guard down. They will tell the truth and it’s often unvarnished in a way that is shocking or funny. At times, The Pez Outlaw feels like it could be a part of a season of Netflix’s now canceled American Vandal, which spoofed the kind of low stakes crime that this film is about.
The details of the story are so strange and funny that they can cause you to question what the real truth of the story is. Steve Glew as a subject is a bit unreliable, as he has a high opinion about what he did and how he got away with his schemes. It’s even fascinating how he believes that the president of Pez USA had it out for him, and him alone. It would be easy to dismiss Steve’s paranoia as vanity, but in the grand scheme he was right in some ways. In other ways, he was very, very lucky.
Directors Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel stage dramatic reenactments of Steve’s exploits, with Steve playing himself. These fantasies are well shot and are an homage to the kinds of stories Steve himself loves. The scenes add to the larger than life persona that Steve inhabits. It adds to the possibility of some of the events being exaggerated over time. Almost always after one of Steve’s declarative statements there would be an expert to refute or clarify. Though, after one of those reenactments, Steve’s greatest feat was that he essentially was able to do what he did because of a clerical error on Pez USA’s part, which puts us firmly in Steve’s camp.
We like stories of the little guy taking on the man. We like the underdog. Much of documentary filmmaking is exposing truth or giving a slice of life that we normally wouldn’t see. With Steve’s story, we get the truth about the way the American system is unfair to the working poor and the slice of life about a collector who’s able to bring about a titanic shift in his corner of collecting. Steve is an underdog who filled a marketplace and made people happy.
Collecting, and especially collecting things marketed mostly to children, boggles the minds of some people. It’s a hobby that requires patience, money, and more patience. A documentary like The Pez Outlaw only requires that you buckle in and enjoy the roller coaster of the truly strange tale of how Steve Glew got rich and then fell back down to Earth in the early ’90s. It’s a funny and enthralling story that will likely send you to see what big brands have not done the proper paperwork that could make you quite a bit more financially comfortable.