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The Pez Outlaw film review
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Film

The Pez Outlaw is a Breezy Story of Crime and Candy 

SXSW 2022: The Pez Outlaw Review

The Pez Outlaw is one of the best types of true crime documentaries, the story of a bizarre subculture that you had no idea about, and money and reputations being torched over the intellectual property related to Pez dispensers. 

Another great thing about The Pez Outlaw? It’s 90 minutes, in and out, and not the slightest bit stretched. If Netflix had gotten a hold of this story, I have a feeling it would have been stretched out over eight one-hour episodes. 

Think of it like Tiger King, only without any murder or animal cruelty, and with much lower stakes. And, you know, a small fraction of the running time. Also, the only crime is the possible illegal smuggling of goofy candy dispensers. 

Directed by Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel, The Pez Outlaw is the story of Steven Glew, an obsessive-compulsive hobbyist and toy collector who, in 1994, was depressed, broke, and stuck in a going-nowhere career working as a machinist. 

Then, his life was turned around when he picked up an unlikely hobby: Collecting Pez dispensers. Acting on a tip that he could import them straight from the factory in Slovenia, bring them back to the U.S., and sell them for a profit, especially ones that weren’t available domestically. 

This all took place during the head of Pez-mania, just a couple of years after the plot of a Seinfeld episode hinged on Jerry putting such a dispenser on Elaine’s leg and ruining George’s girlfriend’s piano recital. 

Naturally, his little hobby drew the ire of Big Pez, specifically the company that controlled Pez sales in the United States. Led by Scott McWhinnie, a laughable character known as the “Pezident,” the company went on the warpath against Glew.

The film doesn’t pretend at any point to be neutral, clearly putting Glew’s plight over that of the intellectual property concerns of the company.  Glew, sporting long hair and a beard, is just a fantastic documentary character, and he has a sweet relationship with his wife, Kathy, who suffers from Parkinson’s. 

Ultimately, The Pez Outlaw wanted me to chew on some Pez, preferably from a dispenser smuggling from post-Cold War Eastern Europe.

The film stages reenactments of the various events, which I normally can’t stand in documentaries, but it works here, mostly because Glew plays himself in them. Indeed, at South by Southwest Glew was awarded Special Jury Recognition for Acting in a Documentary. 

  • Stephen Silver

South by Southwest celebrates the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. Follow our coverage all month!

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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