A Dirty Shame Movie Review

Ultra-trashy provocateur John Waters returns to crude, campy form with A Dirty Shame, a risqué, ribald NC-17 sex-a-thon that finds the iconoclastic director reveling in his most beloved vices. The story of a frigid housewife who, because of an accidental head injury, becomes indoctrinated into a gang of raging sex addicts, Waters' ultra-vulgar comedy about fornicating buffoons and boobs is both a sarcastic rebuke to the traditional notion of "family values" and a heartfelt paean to Baltimore's freakish misfit population. Barely resembling the director's exasperatingly toothless Pecker and half-baked Cecil B. DeMented, the film - a delirious explosion of genitalia jokiness and raunchy social satire that's coated in an incongruous sheen of '50s-era movie mannerisms - is as nasty as it wants to be.

Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) is a grumpy, prudish convenience store employee who can't stand her husband Vaughn's (Chris Isaak) sexual advances and is ashamed of her stripper daughter Caprice's (Selma Blair) insanely enormous fake breasts, which the young harlot willingly displays (at least, before being put under house arrest for indecent exposure) down at the local biker bar under the stage name "Ursula Udders." Sylvia is disgusted by the rampant public displays of affection infecting her quiet town, yet after suffering a concussion, a strapping mechanic named Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville) does some voodoo on her libido, transforming Sylvia into an unhinged sex-aholic destined - as the Christ-like Ray-Ray preaches to his choir of fetishistic cohorts - to discover a truly unique new sexual act. With the rallying cry "Let's Go Sexin'!", Sylvia and Ray-Ray orchestrate a debauched sexual revolution against the square "Neuters" who - led by Sylvia's mother Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd) and Marge the Neuter (Waters regular Mink Stole) - have organized a counter-coalition of the "moral," and Waters, through the sheer abundance of explicit material on display, goes for the jugular (or somewhere slightly lower) in his attempt to appall and offend.

Those with unadventurous opinions about sex will surely find much to object to in Waters' scattershot comedy, which is inundated with bizarre sexual obsessions (adult babies; homosexual "bears;" defecation and fellatio fanatics), suggestive imagery (even the trees and bushes are taken with the deviant deity Ray-Ray's sensual sermons), in-jokes for the Waters faithful (including an amusingly apropos appearance by Ricki Lake) and bad taste set pieces highlighted by Sylvia demonstrating - during a game of hokey-pokey at the senior center - a unique way for women to pick up plastic bottles without using their hands. Waters' fondness for these eccentric sexual creatures and their inappropriate behavior is palpable, yet his overriding purpose is to lampoon conservatives whose objection to sexual expression is, in the director's opinion, a fundamental opposition to tolerance. "My daughter is a good girl. She hates sex," says Big Ethel about her nymphomaniac offspring Sylvia, and the Neuters' priggish, slogan-heavy rally against these perverts ("Sex is Dirty," "Down with Diversity" read their placards) exemplifies Waters' sardonic mockery of those who virulently (and oft-times hypocritically) stand in opposition to anyone different from themselves.

Though Waters' flat visual compositions don't completely do justice to his sidesplitting potty humor, there's a newfound go-for-broke experimentation visible in the director's stylistic choices. Waters embellishes this carnal carnival with goofy "subliminal messages" (spelled-out words such as W-H-O-R-E and H-O-R-N-Y frequently flash across the screen), erotic B-movie stock footage collages whenever someone is hit in the head, and ironic allusions to Douglas Sirk and similar '50s melodramas, and his cast - led by the superbly out-of-control Ullman and Knoxville - joyously embraces this goofy, headstrong brand of cinematic extremism. Culminating with a hilariously idiotic Night of the Walking Nymphomaniacs orgy in which everyone - and everything, including squirrels - indulges in their basest fantasies, Waters' lewd, crude A Dirty Shame is nothing less than a form of perverted cinematic Viagra.

In addition to extensive featurettes on the making of the film, the DVD includes commentary from Waters and a deleted scene.

Blairy chested.


Comments

A Dirty Shame Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NC-17, 2004

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