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Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) is a stick-in-the-mud housewife who works in her family's convenience store with her husband Vaughn (Chris Isaak) and mother Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd). She despairs about her overly endowed, nymphomaniac daughter Caprice (Selma Blair), known to fans as Ursula Udders, and keeps her under a close eye and lock and key. When Sylvia is involved in a traffic accident, she suffers concussion, and comes to the attention of tow-truck operator and self-acclaimed sexual healer Ray-Ray Perkins (Johnny Knoxville), who inducts her into his band of the sexually perverse.

Review by Louise Keller:
Perverse, debauched and outrageous, A Dirty Shame is a bawdy, satirical romp about sexual addiction. Exploring the wide divide between prudes and the world of sexual excess, there's enough bad taste on display here to shock, amuse and entertain. It sizzles when it's hot and fizzles when it's not, but one thing is certain. Writer/director John Waters goes full throttle, never opting for half measures. Appealing predominantly to gay audiences and those who like their entertainment on the wild side, it's often high camp, crass and crude, and for the most part, Waters fans will flock and be reasonably satisfied. With enough energy to launch a rocket and spot-on performances from a lively and talented cast, in the first half A Dirty Shame roars like a tiger, but starts to get repetitive and meander towards the end.

Much of the success of the film relies on the contrast of extremes on display. In particular, the use of music is wonderfully effective, as it juxtapositions sweet, old fashioned tunes with scenes that are raunchy and wild. Songs like The Bible Tells Me So, Till The End of Time and Captain Chipmunk make their own statements, when they are played as a counterpoint to the offensive. The music is also integrated into the storyline - like the scene when Sylvia and hubby Vaughn visit his mother at the gentle aged care centre, as residents participate in a geriatric version of The Hokey Pokey, walking frames and all. Sylvia, who has been made into a sex addict by the hypnotically bizarre Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville, perfect) and starts 'shaking all about' to the music. One thing quickly leads to another involving naked male nurses and it is safe to say bottled water has never been used like this before.

Ullman embraces her crabby housewife turned sex-addict with so much gusto, that we can't help but be swept along by her transformation. When we first meet her, she is the epitome of an angry victim, struggling and fighting for her own identity in a world where she is constantly confronted by perversion. When she dons animal print mini skirt from the clothing bin, red lips and black beauty spot, she is like a predator on heat. Selma Blair is a riot as her sex-hungry, balloon-bosomed daughter kept under lock and key, and every single member of the cast is terrific. I like the diversity of the neighbourhood's perversion, and Sex Addicts Anonymous is both innovative and very funny. There's the cop who gets his kicks wearing baby clothes, the couple who enjoy vomiting over each other, the young guy who drinks vase water and fondles raw meat in the supermarket, another who worships dirt and the tubby, hairy, homosexual couple and tubby grown up son, who growl like the three bears.

The script is full of sexual innuendos, delivering a cumulative effect. We are left with an overall feeling of excess and joyous (bad taste) self-expression. By the time everyone starts head-banging each other in order to effect a concussion to control the sexual addictions, the plot has pretty well been lost, but along the way, there's a feeling of vitality and zest. Watch out for a cameo by David Hasselhoff on a plane, that involves a turd. Go on - leave your inhibitions at home, and ride the wave with John Waters.

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(US, 2004)

CAST: Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Chris Isaak, Selma Blair

PRODUCER: Ted Hope, Christine Vachon

DIRECTOR: John Waters

SCRIPT: John Waters


EDITOR: Jeffrey Wolf

MUSIC: George S. Clinton


RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: September 1, 2005

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