A DIRTY SHAME
**** (out of 5)
September 24, 2004
Tracey Ullman as SYLVIA STICKLES
Johnny Knoxville as RAY-RAY PERKINS
Selma Blair as CAPRICE STICKLES/URSULA UDDERS
Chris Isaak as VAUGHN STICKLES
Suzanne Shepherd as BIG ETHEL
Studio: Fine Line Features
Directed by: John Waters
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Let’s face it, John Waters peaked with “Pink Flamingoes.” No one denies this, not even John Waters. In fact, he’s proudly said that Divine would never live down eating dog poop while he would never be able to live up to it again.
Man, what a legacy.
After “Hairspray” legitimized Waters as a real director, he softened quite a bit. Maybe it’s because he’s just gotten old. Maybe he just stopped taking so many drugs. But with the exception of “Serial Mom,” his last batch of feature films haven’t quite had the allure of his earlier work. Until now.
Waters’ latest film, “A Dirty Shame” is his first time in decades that has tapped into his cinema trash roots. Tracey Ullman plays Sylvia Stickles, a frigid Baltimore housewife whose only daughter Caprice (Selma Blair) has enlarged her breasts to a ludicrous degree and now goes by the screen name Ursula Udders. Sylvia keeps Ursula under lock and key after she was arrested for indecency at a local strip club.
On her way to work one day, Sylvia suffers an accidental concussion and wakes up a sex fiend. She is ushered into her new world of debauchery by Ray-Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville), a local sexual messiah. As Sylvia discovers her new hobbies, her mother Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd) starts a crusade against filth in their sleepy Baltimore suburb.
Sure, the plot doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but I’m beginning to think that plot has been John Waters’ problem over the last twenty years. No one went and saw “Multiple Maniacs” or “Female Trouble” because of plot. Now that Waters is less concerned with telling a solid story and is focusing again on sexual perversion and fetish, he’s made his best movie in years. Go figure.
Keeping in mind that John Waters has grown up a bit, as have his own movies, “A Dirty Shame” is still fun to watch. Waters tackles taboos like sexual addition with about as much sensitivity as arriving to an AA meeting with a six pack, but he’s never been about enlightening people. If you want to see a serious examination of sexual addiction, look somewhere else.
One notable thing about “A Dirty Shame” is that it carries (with good cause) and NC-17 rating, only the second one awarded this year. Like it’s NC-17 partner “The Dreamers,” this film is hardly pornographic. Kids, don’t bother trying to sneak into this one because most of this rating comes from bizarre fetish elements and Sylvia’s ability to pick up a water bottle without using her hands.
As you can guess, “A Dirty Shame” is no “Hairspray.” But it’s no “Pink Flamingoes,” either. Don’t expect to see anyone dining on Reese’s feces at the climax of this movie. There’s no egg lady, no filth contest and no singing anus. Fortunately John Waters knows that, NC-17 or not, he can never completely go back and relive the 70s.
In the old days, Waters wouldn’t have had the street cred to work with talent like Tracey Ullman, Selma Blair and Chris Isaak (although something tells me, he wouldn’t have had a problem getting someone like Johnny Knoxville back then). Also, in the old days, he would have found a real porno star with breasts the size of watermelons to play Ursula Udders.
I, for one, am glad to see some good old fashioned John Waters trash rise from the ashes again.