AWARD THIS 2023 NOMINEE! Truth is stranger than fiction, as they say. That is certainly the case with The Pez Outlaw, directed by Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel. The narrative takes so many absurd, implausible twists and turns that one would logically presume it was made up. But, the film is a documentary, one that will appeal to everyone.
Steven Glew was miserable working as a machinist. His joy was collecting the proof-of-purchase prizes and selling the toys offered in cereal boxes. Eventually, though, the breakfast food companies changed the rules, so the side hustle began drying up. During his last run selling at a toy convention, Glew saw someone trading in Pez dispensers and instantly fell in love. So, he approached them and was given some unexpected advice: the best place to get Pez dispensers is directly from the factories in Eastern Europe.
So, with the blessing of his wife Kathy, who has the patience of a saint, Glew ventures off to Slovenia with their son, Josh. The perpetually upbeat man recalls his first foray into a Pez factory as akin to entering Wonka’s factory, wherein everyone was delighted to see him and help him. The younger Glew remembers how the manager gave him an ultimately failed design known as Bubble Boy. So, with the help of various Pez workers, the Glews imported thousands upon thousands of non-U.S. dispenser designs to sell for a pretty penny stateside.
“…the Glews imported thousands upon thousands of non-U.S. dispenser designs…”
Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a plot to The Pez Outlaw if there weren’t obstacles and adversaries to overcome. Due to a bureaucratic hiccup on the part of Pez, customs couldn’t detain or halt Glew and his duffle bags of ill-gotten goods. But, his actions caught the ire of U.S. Pez CEO Scott McWhinnie, aka The Pezident; yes, that is what he went by. So, McWhinnie began looking for ways to take down the Pez Outlaw, as Glew came to be known, and started making hundreds of thousands of dollars selling Pez dispensers no one else in North America had. This gave his family, Kathy, Josh, and daughter Moriah, a very comfortable life; in fact, his daughter’s college tuition was completely paid off.
The film is an international espionage thriller. There’s pure tension as Glew is caught up in customs upon returning with his first load of Pez. It’s intense, as the Storkels ably get viewers to side with their subject and his quirks. So, in Robin Hood-like fashion, audiences root for the man to get away with illegal activities. McWhinnie would eventually hire people to follow and shadow Glew to try and disrupt his business. Or did he? Glew is prone to exaggerations of the highest order, making the tension all the more palpable because even if it wasn’t actually happening, he so thoroughly believed it was that those watching do as well.
It is also an Oceans-style heist flick. The reenactments of how Glew acquired the items, eventually being given a truck by the Pez factory workers to load as much as possible, have a sense of danger and excitement. Oh, it is also an underdog/David and Goliath story, as Glew faced down a huge corporation and was successful for a full decade.
Finally, the film is a sweet romance. Steven and Kathy Glew met, and it was “lust at first sight,” but their adoration of each is never in question. Later in life, Glew realizes he needs to step up to be there for his family and does so in a manner no one expected. Quite frankly, he’s making all other husbands look bad by comparison, and that is just not fair.
"…truth is stranger than fiction."