A Dirty Shame

  A Dirty Shame
Chesty Love: The Early Years

© 2004, Fine Line
All Rights Reserved

Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) is an uptight suburban Baltimore resident who doesn't have any patience with her sexually frustrated husband (Chris Isaak) or her obscenely breasted daughter (Selma Blair). One frustrating afternoon in traffic, Sylvia is knocked unconscious, and when she awakens, she finds her loins burning with an ungodly desire. Nurturing her inner whore is Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville), a carnal holy man who leads the local group of sex addicts (who include homosexual "bears," a cop who loves infantilism, and a convenience store clerk who craves dirt) on a quest to discover a new sex position. Naturally, Sylvia becomes their missing link to orgasmic bliss. On the other side of the street are the "Neuters," a group of conservative neighbors who hate sexual freedom and diversity, and who try and cure Sylvia and the deviants with Prozac and other means.

"A Dirty Shame" (IMDb listing) returns writer/director John Waters to his arena of choice: filth. "Raunchy" isn't quite how I would describe the film, for that is too decent a term and it paints a softer picture of some of the madness in the picture. "Shame" is a carnal freak show, with Waters as the carnie daring audiences to come on in and have a look at the insanity. As icing on the cake, Fine Line Features has bestowed the greatest gift a studio can give to a filmmaker: a license to make an NC-17 film. God bless America.

"Shame" doesn't lend itself easily to review due to the high volume of adult situations and terms on display here (some of which are subliminally inserted into the frame by Waters). Suffice it to say that I now know what "funch" means, and what a "Roman Shower" is. While it isn't quite up to the inspired "Pink Flamingos" level of the man who performs "Surfing Bird" with his hindquarters or Divine eating dog feces, "Shame" comes close with its surplus of perverted delights, including an emphasis on severely taboo sexual fetishes. After tackling Hollywood machinations with his last film, 2000's "Cecil B. Demented," it's a treat to see Waters return to the button-pushing genre he invented.

Amazingly, the cast Waters has assembled seems game to go wherever this script takes them, and my dear lord, does it ever take them. Credit must be paid to Tracey Ullman for never breaking into camp with her performance, even when faced with scenes where her "special area" literally talks her into sexual acts, or during a "Hokey Pokey" dancing sequence where she picks up a water bottle with said area. Ullman is a deeply brave actress. Same goes for Selma Blair, who is given ridiculously oversized breast appliances for her role as "Ursula Udders," and manages not to wink about them every chance she gets. Suzanne Shepherd and Waters regular Mink Stole head up the Neuters, ranting and raving about the perverts taking over Baltimore and the masturbatory practices of U.S. mail employees. For good measure, Waters even throws in a David Hasselhoff cameo that the actor will never be able to live down.

Eventually, "Shame" reaches a fever pitch of sexual anarchy where the whole town indulges their every last disgusting desire, even the squirrels. Waters isn't always able to control the insanity (a word that doesn't quite sell the picture's tone) of the film, which results in a handful of moments that fall flat (Patty Hearst dry humping a leg comes to mind). Still, it's hard to deny the enthusiasm Waters is generating with his guffaw-inducing screenplay. "Shame" ends so audaciously that I can only imagine that some action directors will be green with envy, but it precisely caps this bizarre and uproarious film, which is a major achievement when you take into account the madcap action of the previous 85 minutes.

Filmfodder Grade: B

Buy A Dirty Shame posters