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A Dirty Shame
Director: John Waters
Cast: Tracey Ullman, Chris Isaak, Johnny Knoxville
ver wanted to know what “Roman Showers” are? Got a friend who’s been bugging you to help him get his infantilism fix? Well look no further, consenting adults . . . A Dirty Shame is here for you!
John Waters’s latest takes his left-field viewpoint and heads straight for society’s naughty bits. Packed with the odd joy endemic to Waters’s films, A Dirty Shame showcases an over-the-top battle between the forces of repression and a growing army of sex addicts. The ludicrous series of confrontations between “neuters” and their sexually supercharged neighbors produces a good deal of humor, but just not quite enough for an hour and a half of film.
Front and center in the carnal conflict is the irritable Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman). A middle-aged convenience store worker, Sylvia is disgusted by husband Vaughn’s (Chris Isaak) tame self-abuse, and utterly enraged at daughter Caprice’s (Selma Blair) unwillingness to sheath her mammoth mammaries. Fate, however, intervenes to melt away Sylvia’s repressive defenses.
"So, uh, I'm thinking a quickie in the employees-only bathroom?"
After running out of gas on her way to work, Mrs. Stickles is struck sharply on the head by an object protruding from a trailer of a passing car. Luckily for her, local mechanic Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville) witnesses the events and recognizes their importance. Ray-Ray, it seems, is no ordinary grease monkey, he is a sexual messiah. Rushing to Sylvia’s side, he “services” her and her car, afterwards handing his bewildered conquest a business card. In time, Ray reveals that he leads a diverse group of converts; sex addicts who have come to fully embrace their perversion after being accidentally concussed.
At about that point the story collapses. The asexual moral majority, derogatorily called “neuters”, organizes to stop the increasingly lurid behavior of many community members. Souls of locals become arenas for tug-of-wars between pure and prurient, with intermittent head injuries and Prozac determining outcomes. Eventually the film devolves into a laundry listing of various fetishes and non-explicit demonstration of various sex acts.
From Storytelling to a Zappa to this…
While there is a good amount of fun in discovering the intricacies of “Bear” culture, the social hierarchy of large, hairy, gay men who (in Waters’s world at least) growl at passersby, snickering at bizarre sexual behavior can’t quite carry a feature film. The clumsy finish and seemingly random narrative show a lack of effort spent crafting a cohesive story, and after a while the sex humor becomes old hat. There are a good amount of giggles but 89 minutes should not feel long.
One should be hesitant to dismiss this work completely, because although A Dirty Shame is monotone and meandering, it is also the source of some good. Besides being laugh out loud funny on several occasions, Waters reminds the audience that sex is strange, messy, and perverse, but above all, fun. And that moral of the story is one that everyone needs to hear . . . especially female Stylus readers . . . who live within 50 miles of Philadelphia . . . and may be into non-gay “Bear” culture.
By: Kevin Worrall
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