July 28, 2011

Queer Review: A Dirty Shame (2004)

A Dirty Shame
Director: John Waters
Writer: John Waters
Cast: Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Suzanne Shepherd

John Waters' movie A Dirty Shame certainly lives up to its directors reputation and title. A satirical look at our cultural views on sexual practices, fetishes, and taboos, this movie pushes envelopes and John Waters' goals here are to entertain and offend in equal doses.

Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ulman) is a neuter, a word that means in the world that John Waters has created a sexless prude. Sylvia's views on sexuality are so strict that she makes most nuns look like perverted sexual deviants. When she receives a concussion which turns her into a sex addict under the influence of Ray Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville), her world is changed. Ray Ray, it turns out, is the messiah like leader of a group of sexual freedom fighters, each with their own fetishes. Ray Ray's group soon becomes convinced that Sylvia is The One that can lead them to the discovery of a new kind of sexual gratification.

The Queering
As this description implies, A Dirty Shame is not a movie strictly set in reality, but rather in a movieverse alternative, where getting an accidental concussion can cause anyone to switch from being a neuter to being a liberated sex addict and vice versa.

The social message the Waters seems to be pushing here - that many people are too uptight when it comes to sex and too few are tolerant of other peoples private lives - is a little too obvious I would argue. However, I don't think that pushing a social message was even close to being Waters primary objective. A Dirty Shame is a farce through and through and arguably only fails if people are unable to find the humour.

One thing worth noting here is the great deal of sexual imagery seen throughout A Dirty Shame, from the trees and fauna that form suggestive shapes to the giant breasts Caprice "Ursula Udders" Stickles (Sylvia Blair) that dangle over the proceedings.

There is no great acting to be found here, although Johnny Knoxville is memorable as Ray Ray and Tracey Ullman manages the difficult task of playing a character who has no arc, but rather swings wildly back and forth between neuter and sex addict, in a game of sexual liberation ping pong.

Recommended for those not easily offended. For the non-neuters, Water's movie may be perverted and dirty, but there should be absolutely no shame in watching it.

The Rating


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