In John Waters’ A Dirty Shame, Tracey Ullman suffers a knock on the head and turns into a raving horn-dog sex fiend – a flesh addict on the prowl. Oh, does she rave! She waggles her tongue and dives into a Dumpster to retrieve a discarded miniskirt, so eager is she to make a spectacle of her depravity. Many of her fellow residents of Baltimore’s Harford Road also suffer concussions, and – bang! – they’re looking to get banged. The local greaser-rebel-stud, played by Johnny Knoxville, stares at Ullman’s crotch until it catches fire. Ullman, with a complexion of sallow beige, is playing the Divine role, but Divine, in Waters’ old underground days, thought he was sexy and therefore – in some LSD-nightmare sort of way – was, whereas Ullman displays no such joy. She goes through the motions of liberating her inner skank, and so does the movie.
In A Dirty Shame, it’s the freaks against the squares again, though Waters’ celebration of freakishness has never looked quite so square. Hedges sculpted like genitals, a beach-ball-chested stripper named Ursula Udders (Selma Blair), a trio of roly-poly gay ”bears” – it’s not just the culture that has surpassed Waters in outrage. I think he himself now identifies with the leftover ’50s authority figures who shriek and pop their eyes, as they have in so many other Waters films. They certainly come off as more alive than the sex fiends. A Dirty Shame isn’t dirty fun. It’s the perv Footloose.