The Pez Outlaw Review: A Breezy, Charming Documentary About The World Of Pez Collecting [SXSW]

Have you ever heard the story about the Pez Outlaw? In the 1990s, a curious man named Steve Glew met a mysterious woman at a toy convention. Opening her coat like a spy in a thriller she showed Steve a rare Pez dispenser — and told him how he could get his hands on such a gem: by hopping on a plane to Slovenia. From there, Steve embarked on a globe-trotting journey that allowed him to quit his dead-end machinist job and become the Pez Outlaw, a near-mythical figure who would head to Pez factories in Europe, buy up designs that weren't regularly sold in the United States, and flip them for a profit. And we're talking a big profit here — somewhere in the millions. Things got so good that Steve actually had to hire a team to help him sell Pez. 

Of course, Steve wasn't selling his own product. He was selling the property of the Pez, and Scott McWhinnie, then-president of the Pez Company (he actually went by the title the Pezident) wasn't happy. Thus the stage was set for an epic rivalry between Steve, the man dubbed the Pez Outlaw, and the Pezident. This all serves as inspiration for "The Pez Outlaw," a breezy, charming documentary from directors Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel. It's ultimately a refreshingly low-stakes heist/caper flick, with cinematic re-enactments that have Steve Glew playing himself as he treks across the globe building his Pez empire. 

With his gnome-like beard and quirky, aw-shucks attitude, Steve Glew is inherently likable. "The Pez Outlaw" paints him in the brightest of lights, buying into and embracing his self-made mythology. There's an almost hidden undercurrent of sadness running through the doc as it becomes clear that Steve sees himself as far more of an epic thorn in the side of the Pez company when in truth he was more like a minor inconvenience. He's conflated his exploits to the point where it's hard to decipher fact from fiction, but that ends up being part of the charm. And besides, he's not entirely off base. At one point, the directors reveal to Steve that his paranoid beliefs that the Pezident had people following him around were actually true. The vindication leads Steve to laugh uproariously, wryly commenting: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." 

Quick, breezy, and fun

All of this could've backfired. An interviewee here lovingly calls Steve a "hillbilly," and Steve himself speaks of how he's always a little disheveled and always a little out there. He also suffers from OCD, to the point where he "always wears three pairs of socks" and constantly has a piece of paper towel in his hand like a security blanket. A lesser film would point its finger and laugh at Steve, mocking him for being such a strange figure. But it becomes clear that "The Pez Outlaw" has plenty of affection for Steve. And whatever his flaws, Steve himself seems like a genuinely good guy, one devoted to his family.

"The Pez Outlaw" tracks Steve's journey. His OCD first inspired him to collect cereal boxes. This, in turn, inspired him to collect and then sell, cereal box prizes. And then came Pez, those funky plastic candy dispensers, topped with all sorts of colorful character heads. As we learn here, the American Pez company and the European Pez company are almost entirely different entities. The overseas Pez would offer all sorts of dispenser designs that were rejected by U.S. Pez, which meant that they immediately became valuable to U.S. collectors. 

And, unfortunately for Pez, but fortunately for Steve, Pez neglected to register their trademark with customs — a goof that enabled Steve to freely bring thousands and thousands of Pez dispensers back to the states. Eventually, the company caught on to what Steve was doing, and wasn't thrilled. Of course, Steve was technically selling other people's I.P., and Pez had right to want to stop him. But it's so hard to dislike Steve. And the doc goes to great lengths to paint Pezident Scott McWhinnie as a villainous dweeb. 

In a sea of true crime-based documentaries, there's something so darn charming about the low-stakes world of "The Pez Outlaw." No one is brutally murdered, or even injured. Evil doesn't run rampant. There's a moment where we learn that two of the factories Steve bought Pez from closed, causing Steve to feel guilty, stating he thinks he was directly responsible for those people losing their jobs. But then the filmmakers cut directly to a Pez representative who immediately shoots that down, commenting that the closures had absolutely nothing to do with what Steve was doing. Are they lying to save face? Maybe. Or maybe it's the truth, and Steve's foibles really didn't lead to much harm. 

One could argue that things are too light here. Indeed, there are more than a few diversions (like an admittedly funny side-trip with another Pez collector who is angry the documentary crew isn't making a movie about him instead of Steve) that seem as if they've been added to pad the runtime. But "The Pez Outlaw" ends up being so quick, breezy, and fun, that it ultimately does its job and, unlike the chalky sweet Pez candy, never leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10