2022 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day One “The Pez Outlaw”

Spring felt like it had finally arrived in Milwaukee yesterday. And, after 903 days, the Milwaukee Film Festival returned in person for its 14th annual run. People showed up for a sold out Oriental Theatre for an opening night screening of THE PEZ OUTLAW.

The Pez Outlaw

THE PEZ OUTLAW is a documentary based on the real life (mis-)adventures of Steve Glew who made and lost a fortune smuggling Pez rarities obtained from factories in Europe back to the collector’s market in the United States in the 1990s. Kind of falling into Pez collecting as a relief from his miserable factory job, Steve Glew accidentally finds a hole in the system. From there, he has a run of hundreds of thousands of dollars as Eastern European corruption, desperate collectors, frustrated artists, bureaucratic oversights, clandestine dealings, and the “Pezident” of Pez-USA all conspire for and against him. It’s fun stuff, almost reminiscent of FARGO in its dealings, and the film gets you rooting for Steve Glew by portraying him in a David and Goliath struggle with the corporate Goliath of Pez-USA playing the villain role. And Steve, playing himself in flashbacks, gets to play hero to an extent.

The smuggling shenanigans are fun, but it’s the portrait of Steve and his wife Kathy that’s the emotional glue that holds the film together. We’ve all heard how money is sometimes a curse. Being on the doorstep of poverty and working unrewarding jobs to keep the wolves at bay is not treat either. Steve’s adventures in Pez smuggling, helps him put his kids through college, and upgrade their home into something livable and provides them the flexibility to pursue some of their dreams, such as starting a horse boarding business. More importantly, it helps Steve deal with depression. And when things get really rough, with Kathy being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Steve is able to turn his attention to her. Their marriage is the rock that holds the film together.

THE PEZ OUTLAW isn’t a great film, but it’s a good one and a real crowd-pleaser. It takes what could have been a real farce and finds an emotional through-line which gives the film some gravitas and meaning. It most certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel on documentaries, even if it is well shot with a better soundtrack than you might expect, but it certainly knows how to confidently strut its stuff without wearing out its welcome.

THE PEZ OUTLAW plays once more at the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival on April 22, 2022 at 3:15 pm at the Oriental Theatre. The 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 21, 2022 until May 5, 2022. You can get tickets at mkefilm.org.