[SXSW Review] The Pez Outlaw

Magical Troll. Disheveled Loser. Pez God.

All eccentric descriptions given to one man: Steve Glew.

Glew is a machinist from small-town Michigan. He is a man with an active imagination and an affinity for the brightly colored things in life. He shares a home with his longtime love, Kathy, and looks for ways to cope with his anxiety and depression. His greatest thrills come from collecting colorful cereal boxes and selling the collectible cereal toys at conventions.

That is, until he hears the word that forever changes the course of his life: Kolinska.

Kolinska was a factory in Eastern Europe, manned by the Pez candy company to design and distribute Pez dispensers. However, it was much more to Glew. Kolinska was Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, where ideas were born and rolled into captivating confections on the conveyor belt. Perhaps the most daring idea to come out of Kolinska was not from Pez at all, but from Glew, who hatched a plan to transport as many of the European Pez dispensers as his duffel bags could carry and sell them to the ravenous Pez dispenser collectors in the United States.

How did Steve Glew spend the better part of the 1990s carting black market Pez dispensers over the Atlantic, making millions in the process? Chalk it up to missing paperwork.

The US Pez office had never run its trademark by Customs, leaving Glew open to smuggle his sugary contraband to his heart’s content. Glew describes the Customs opinion on Pez: “if they’re that stupid, go ahead.”

Ahead Glew went, building a business so successful, he hired an entire team to help him sell Pez dispensers, raked in millions at conventions and full-page ads, and proclaimed himself The Pez Outlaw.

But it was not all sugar and sweets in the Pez business, especially when Pez executive Scott McWhinnie, aka The Pezident, seemed hell-bent on destroying The Pez Outlaw and his whole side Pez operation.

The Pez Outlaw is not a documentary that takes itself too seriously and we don’t necessarily need it to. Making its worldwide premiere this week at SXSW 2022, the film creates a space for hope and whimsy, where we can root for the Steve Glews of the world. We want him to take down corporate suits. We love Steve and Kathy falling in “lust at first sight.” We want Steve to win.

Director/producers Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel elevate Steve as something of a cult hero, which is what’s most endearing about The Pez Outlaw. The celebration of those with big dreams, big plans, and a little twinkle in their eye, where other filmmakers may have chosen for a more disparaging tone.

The Pez Outlaw portrays himself in the re-enactments of his escapades, bringing moments fit for an old school Hollywood adventure, even jokingly compared throughout the film to Citizen Kane, film noir, and the works of Glew’s favorite writer, Tom Clancy. As an added bonus, the remarkable artistry, bright colors, and text design of the film make for a nice, visual treat.

The world of Pez is an alluring one to collectors and the world of Steve Glew will be a lovable one to anyone who watches The Pez Outlaw. We will have to wait and see whether The Pez Outlaw helps Glew land his own chapter in Pez history as he hopes. In the meantime, it’s a good story and a heck of a lot of fun.

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