SXSW 2022: ‘The Pez Outlaw’ Is a Delightful Story About Spies, Love, and Pez

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When you entered a candy shop back in the day, it was hard to ignore the glorious sight of Pez. The candy itself didn’t matter. What was valuable about Pez were those tiny colorful dispensers with the heads of Bugs Bunny, Batman, C3PO, and other cool characters. Words like espionage, drama, and crime weren’t exactly what came to mind when thinking about these unique toys/candy dispensers, however, that might change for you after watching Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel’s The Pez Outlaw, a delightful documentary about a collector turned smuggler.

The Pez Outlaw is Steve Glew, a Tom Clancy-loving sweet man with a long beard, a big red nose, a highly creative mind, and an OCD that led him to collect cereal boxes and eventually discover in Pez dispensers a gold mine waiting to be taken advantage of. After receiving a tip about rare dispensers in the early 1990s, Pez became the perfect opportunity for Steve to escape his miserable existence working as a machinist in a factory and follow his dreams. He traveled to Eastern Europe, visited Pez factories, and aided by his always underestimated “Michigan hillbilly” look and his charming personality, became friends with all the right people that filled his duffel bags with Pez dispensers whose novel or even unpublished designs made American collectors go crazy once Steve had smuggled them back to the United States. How did he manage to do so? Well, the documentary lets you know all about it with as much fun as possible.

Wife and husband combo Amy and Bryan Storkel take this story and turn it into a quirky thriller through amusing, elegant, and highly entertaining reenactments of Steve’s accounts. From a black and white noir style recreation of Steve’s first encounter with Pez to a Willy Wonka-esque immersion into a European Pez factory, these moments allow The Pez Outlaw to find its personality and distinguish itself from other documentaries. As a plus, we get Steve himself performing in many of his tale’s reenactments.

But what would Steve Glew be without his archnemesis, Pez USA CEO Scott McWhinnie? Nicknamed as The Pezident, McWhinnie followed a low-risk restrictive distribution model at Pez USA which contrasted with the creativity of Pez International’s products. Steve exploited this difference to earn some big bucks from collectors and enrage McWhinnie, who, in tune with the film’s vibe, is painted as a cartoon bully. The incredible cat and mouse feud between The Pez Outlaw and The Pezident ━supported by testimonies of McWhinnie’s marketing manager at the time, Bud Damberg━ allowed Amy and Bryan Storkel to create and nourish an underdog narrative in which an everyday man defied and tried to beat a big powerful fish at his own game. 

And, in the middle of the intrigue, paranoia, and smuggling schemes, there’s a beautiful love story fueling the film. Steve’s motivations to orchestrate and execute his Pez plans are made clear every time he talks about his wife Kathy. There’s such sincerity in his voice that it’s impossible to doubt his affection for her, which goes the other way around too; Kathy is head over heels for Steve and lovingly explains her reasons for pushing him to follow his crazy ideas. This family/love thread, along with an exploration of how Steve faced mental health issues and used his OCD as a tool to pursue his dreams, make the Pez Outlaw an even more sympathetic subject.

There’s something always going on in The Pez Outlaw, a sPEZtacularly fun documentary that draws you in with good vibes, a lighthearted touch, and remarkable technical qualities. There are unnecessary testimonies and characters (I’m looking at you, weird Pez collector describing his encounter with Steve), but Amy and Bryan Storkel strike the perfect tone for this oddball true-crime doc where there’s no murder, but a charming story of love, spies, and dreams.

The Pez Outlaw had its world premiere at SXSW 2022.


The Pez Outlaw
8.5/10

TL;DR

There’s something always going on in The Pez Outlaw, a sPEZtacularly fun documentary that draws you in with good vibes, a lighthearted touch, and remarkable technical qualities. There are unnecessary testimonies and characters (I’m looking at you, weird Pez collector describing his encounter with Steve), but Amy and Bryan Storkel strike the perfect tone for this oddball true-crime doc where there’s no murder, but a charming story of love, spies, and dreams.