Toronto
2 min

Potty mouth

New John Waters' film energetic but inconsistent

SCATALOGICAL FLASHES OF FORMER BRILLIANCE. Despite great laughs, John Waters' A Dirty Shame, with Johnny Knoxville as an erotic messiah, is not a great film. Credit: Xtra files

John Waters pioneered transgressive queer cinema, leaving rabid fans with immensely high expectations for his career. Waters’ new film, A Dirty Shame, will not appease those who demand his return to the underground, but it does manage to bring his trademark bad taste to a whole new level.



The film’s premise is that sexual perversion and nymphomania are provoked by head trauma. The story follows the misadventures of Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman), a prudish housewife who receives a concussion and soon finds herself the 21st apostle of Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville), an erotic messiah who seeks to bring about the divine “Resursexion” by discovering a never-before-performed sex act. Venereal Sylvia, tearing down the street like a wildcat, is the woman to help him, but the gang must first battle the puritans of Hartford Rd – proudly labelled Neuters – who are out to stem the tide of libertinism sweeping the neighbourhood.



The film is similar to Cecil B Demented in its focus on a ragtag team of guerillas, in this case sex addicts instead of underground cinephiles. After forays into the musical (Hairspray, Cry-Baby) and melodrama (Serial Mom, Polyester) genres, and his auto-biographical ruminations on radical art (Pecker, Cecil B Demented), Waters returns wholeheartedly to the old in-and-out for the first time since films like Desperate Living and, of course, the chicken-fucking, incest and poop-eating of Pink Flamingos.



Unlike Waters’ earlier work, however, A Dirty Shame is more interested in talking about sex than actually showing it, and this is why it will disappoint many diehard fans. He offers one of the most scatological scripts ever (garnering it an NC-17 rating south of the border), but, sadly, an encyclopedia of funny euphemisms and “deviant” behaviour does not add up to anything more than an occasionally tiresome string of dirty words.



Badly computer-animated horny squirrels and trees (!) and Selma Blair with big boobies are just not as funny as Waters seems to think, but signs of his former glory abound: cameos from many of his favourite performers including Jean Hill (appearing for the first time since Polyester), clever and trenchant one-liners, found-footage hallucinations and inspired scenes like a retirement home rendition of the “Hokey-Pokey” gone depravedly wrong.



All in all, what A Dirty Shame lacks in consistent wit and narrative, it makes up for with manic energy. And who else but Waters can construct a modern-day Sodom in the middle of suburban Baltimore? His refusal of quality in favour of messiness is what we have always loved about him anyway.



* A Dirty Shame is now playing.