How does one begin to describe the wacky, sex-crazed orgy that is John Waters’ latest and possibly funniest film yet, A Dirty Shame? Who else would offer a scene in which Tracey Ullman — mad with horniness — picks up a water bottle with her vagina while gyrating in the middle of a circle of dancing senior citizens, sending the old folks fleeing in horror? The looks on the old folks faces as they scream in shock? Priceless.
A parody of suburban dysfunction and zombie flicks and a tongue-in-cheek rallying cry for sexual freedom and sex fetishists, A Dirty Shame continues Waters’ infamous revelry in raunch with the underlying message that not only is it OK to be different and perverted, but that, in fact, deviants are better. Set in suburban Baltimore, where the director and writer grew up, one gets the feeling that Waters fought the battle of the maligned outsider long before taking it to the silver screen.
In classic Waters style, A Dirty Shame offers scatological (and no, nothing to compare with Divine eating dog poo in Pink Flamingos) and often disgusting narrative to inspire a gag reflex one minute and leave the entire theater cracking up with laughter the next. Time and again, the opening night audience laughed out loud in unison, with chuckling continuing well after scenes had ended. Slapstick like this doesn’t come easy — the acting and script are superb, with great performances by the likes of Ullman and Johnny Knoxville. Though the movie drags a bit in the middle, it ends with a fireworks display of gags that leaves viewers laughing as they exit the theater.
In his seemingly endless quest to push the limits of acceptable behavior in cinema, Waters has both cleaned up his act and made it dirtier than ever. The fact that A Dirty Shame is rated NC-17 might be the biggest joke ever — there’s no sex per se but at the same time the sex never ends. Ullman has a very realistic orgasm in a car while receiving “service downstairs” from the Jesus of sex, Ray Ray (Knoxville); later a perverted grocery store clerk “fingers” ground beef while eyeing female customers. In her crazed quest for ultimate satisfaction, Ullman imagines hospital workers naked — we get to see a full-frontal male shot for a brief second — and in holding with Waters’ love for all things ca-ca, we get to watch a character named Big Ethel stick her hand into wet feces left conspicuously in her purse by a sex deviant who gets off by pooping in public places.
The setting is a place not unlike Ferndale, a conservative working-class town that becomes the hot spot for homosexuals and people that are not sexually conservative and open about it. Weird sex happening everywhere launches a movement by the morality police of the city, who can’t get any help from the town cop who likes to dress up like a baby and get spanked.
The film is obsessed with euphemisms for sex parts and sex acts, such as “beating the beaver,” and “going to lunch downtown.” The filmmaker might have coined a new term for prudes, here dubbed “neuters.” “We’re neuter and proud of it,” yells a group of angry women as they set out to purge the neighborhood of sex deviants.
Like his other master works — such as Pink Flamingos, Hairspray and one of the greatest films for haters of corporate Hollywood, Cecil B. Demented — Waters is a bit of a moralist here. Either you get it and you’re cool or you don’t and you’re a dickhead. In Waters’ world, prudes are evil and miserable, and sluts are good and happy. You are one or the other.
A Dirty Shame makes the best case yet to shed the “neuter” in you, drop your pants, and join Waters’ club of hedonism.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak. Call 248-263-2111.
Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.