A Dirty Shame
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr John Waters
with Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Selma Blair, Chris Isaak, Suzanne Shepherd, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst, James Ransone, Wes Johnson, Jewel Orem, Jackie Hoffman, David Hasselhoff
release US 24.Sep.04,
UK 29.Apr.05
04/US New Line 1h29

Get a room: Ullman and Isaak

knoxville blair hasselhoff

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A Dirty Shame John Waters takes on the decency brigade with a social comedy that's a refreshing return to his unhinged filmmaking style (think Pink Flamingoes or Polyester). It's often completely out of control, but through the hysterical on-screen mayhem Waters is making an important point.

When Suburban Baltimore housewife Sylvia (Ullman) suffers a head injury, she wakes up as a sex addict, inducted into a secret fetish society by Ray-Ray (Knoxville) and told that she's their long-awaited 12th apostle. Her husband (Isaak) is rather taken aback, but copes; their sex-mad daughter (Blair) is happy Mom finally understands her. But this pushes Sylvia's decency campaigning mother (Shepherd) over the top, so she stages a neighbourhood rally, which collides with the addicts in the most outrageous way imaginable. On a school night!

Waters plays this in vintage comedy style--cheery music, hilarious old-movie cutaways, on-screen titles and of course the central gimmick of a blow to the head causing a personality shift. The dialog is an uproarious mixture of euphemism and innuendo that keeps us laughing. The central clash between decency and diversity is played out like the Night of the Living Dead, although as the story gets increasingly riotous, the film actually grows more serious. It's a crucial issue, but Waters refuses to either pontificate or get bogged down in the politics. In just having fun with the idea, he actually says more.

The cast throw themselves into the action with abandon. Some scenes are just so ludicrous that we stare with disbelief, then laugh when Waters twists it further, taking no prisoners with this collection of nutty characters and shocking situations. It's hugely stylised--cartoonish, arch, camp and profoundly silly. But it's got a double edge, such as when a decency campaigner screams, "The perverts are taking over the neighbourhood! It wasn't this bad in the '60s!" Or when the veneer of control at a 12-step meeting suddenly dissolves. The real shame is that some viewers will be so put off by Waters' deliberately offensive style that they'll miss his important point: there's no such thing as a new perversion. And sex isn't actually dirty.

cert 18 strong sexual themes, language, vulgarity 22.Apr.05

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall