It's morning in Baltimore and housewife Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) is cooking breakfast for her daughter, Caprice (Selma Blair) when her husband Vaughan (Chris Isaak) enters the kitchen feeling amorous. Sylvia, however, is having none of it and fends him off, then goes to take out the breakfast to Caprice, who she is keeping locked up in the guest house. She can't find the keys to the door, and searches her home until she tries the bathroom where she walks in on Vaughan masturbating and tells him off. That's the least of her worries as Caprice is kept captive because she has had huge breast implants and is going by the stage name Ursula Udders but Sylvia wants her just to be "normal". Yet Sylvia will have a different view today after a slight accident...
When it was announced that writer-director John Waters' film A Dirty Shame was to be rated NC-17 by the M.P.A.A. and therefore only available to adults in the U.S.A., his fans had their hopes raised - would this be a return to the high quality depravity of Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble? And watching it, Waters does indeed pack in a whole spectrum of way out sexual fetishes, even if the Waters of old would have depicted more of them onscreen rather than having his characters simply discuss them. In fact, as the film proceeds it resembles a dictionary of such proclivities, with slang being bandied about along with their definitions.
There's a religious aspect to the film in the way it preaches - preaches to the converted, that is. What happens is that Sylvia drives off to her job at the local grocery store but her car runs out of petrol just as she's pulling out of a junction. Unable to start the car, she climbs out to take a look under the hood, but as she does she is accidentally hit on the head by a pole jutting out of the back of a truck, sending her into concussion. This concussion takes the form of seeing clips from old explotiation movies (chosen by Frank Henenlotter, according to the end credits) and suddenly she has a new take on things.
Yes, no longer is Sylvia a repressed housewife, she has her sexual passions awakened with the help of a passing mechanic, Ray Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville). Ray Ray just happens to be at the forefront of a new movement which wishes to see new sexual freedom and tolerance, as long as it's safe, consensual and doesn't harm anyone (it's wise that he made that bit clear). This would explain the strange behaviour that Sylvia has been seeing on her way into work, from the three "bears" to a man taking out his garbage without any trousers on.
Waters delights in putting his dubious dialogue in unlikely characters' mouths and there are times where A Dirty Shame looks like an excuse to get little old ladies to say things like "pubic patch". Mink Stole is there in her now-ideal role as an outraged prude who receives a lion's share of such lines, but it's Suzanne Shepherd as Big Ethel, Sylvia's elderly but formidable mother, who is the funniest as the true crusader against the new tolerance, rallying the "neuters" who don't like the way the neighbourhood is going to back her complaints.
The storyline is wafer thin, but affords such comic highlights as Ullman getting carried away doing the Hokey Cokey in an old folks' home and, erm, descending on a bottle. What Ray Ray wants is a brand new sex act and is looking to his twelve apostles (all of whom were clonked on the head, which we see in inserts) to find it for him, and the willing cast ensure the path to such enlightenment is good natured enough, if a bit monotonous. Any film which features Isaak being knocked out by David Hasselhoff's frozen shit surely can't be all bad, even if the new fetish the converts discover at the end is disappointing (and so much for not harming anyone!). Watch for the subliminal messages like "E-R-E-C-T" or "H-A-R-L-O-T". Music by George S. Clinton.
Witty American writer/director, the chief proponent of deliberate bad taste in American films. His early efforts are little more than glorified home movies, including Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs, but with the notorious Pink Flamingos Waters found his cult audience.