‘The Pez Outlaw’ SXSW 2022 Review – A Vibrant and Captivating Doc

I have a friend from college named Paige. Somewhere in the early days, as part of the stream of accidental nicknames that happens when spend absurd amounts of time together, “Pez” joined the cycle. As a result, when I was buying Christmas gifts one year, I decided it was too funny a chance to pass up and bought Paige a PEZ dispenser. Now, even however many years later, and no matter how many times I delete or unsubscribe from the corporate newsletter they still come on through. And so, that has been my dominant memory and consideration of PEZ for most of my adult life. That changed this morning when I decided to sit down and watch Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel’s remarkable documentary The Pez Outlaw (2022). 

The Pez Outlaw focuses on Steve Glew, a rather mild-mannered Michigan man who grew to prominence in PEZ collector circles in the 1980s and 90s. How you ask? Well, Steve sidled into the toy collector business by maxing out cereal sweepstakes and selling off the various toys and baubles companies mailed out in exchange for coupons cut of out boxes. During one of the many conferences he attended to sell at, he bumped into a woman selling PEZ dispensers and fate stepped in. Over the following years, Steve and his son Joshua made repeated trips to Eastern Europe where PEZ International, the sister company to PEZ USA, operated. While there, they stocked up on PEZ dispensers that “Pezident” Scott McWhinnie opted not to sell in US markets. Exploiting a loophole in PEZ’s trademark registration, Glew succeeded in re-selling “gray market” dispensers as “The Pez Outlaw” until McWhinnie came for blood. 

There are varied angles to approach Glew’s tale, but the Storkel’s convincingly frame it as a a Robin Hood adjacent story. Their framing presents Glew as a folk hero, one who took on a corporate candy titan simply to disrupt the marketing choice to restrict trade in certain areas. It works with aplomb, crucially because Steve, Joshua, and his wife Kathy come off as straight-shooters who worked up from nothing to try and make lives for themselves. Even while the Storkel’s make sure to interview and provide ample runtime to former PEZ senior management who get to take their swings at Glew, no matter of corporate tantrum could make this viewer root against one guy and his family who punched far above their metaphorical weight class to rile up a multinational titan. It is the sort of anti-coroporate-capitalism narrative that proves once again that David can take on Goliath.

Adding to the absurd level of fun in this documentary is the Storkel’s brilliant approach to re-creations. Their first inspired choice is to have Glew, with lots of hair dye to turn his resplendent white beard and mane brown again, play himself. From there, they incorporate a murderer’s row of cinematic techniques to amplify the true crime undertones of Glew’s story. In an early scene, as Kathy talks about Steve reading Tom Clancy novels during his old job at a machinery plant, we cut to Steve doing just that. Yet, the lights lower and suddenly a Black Ops team repels into the shot, melding all manner of imagination and remembrance. Elsewhere, when Steve meets his mysterious first informant on PEZ dispensers, the film takes on a self-aware film noir aeshetic. In glorious black and white, the sequences plays out with pulpy run straight out of Double Indemnity (1944). 

I saw The Pez Outlaw listed on the festival program and RSVP’d out of an interest in the strangenes its logline suggested. I never expected to sit down and discover a vibrant and captivating tale that jumps to the high end of my SXSW favorites. The Pez Outlaw is the most wonderful of surprises you can come across at festivals, and I am so chuffed that it exists. 

The Pez Outlaw was viewed in the Competition Presented by IMAX section of SXSW 2022.

Director: Amy Bandlien Storkel & Bryan Storkel

Rated: NR

Runtime: 85m

Rating: 5 out of 5

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