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  • Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

Last Days

Starring Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville and Selma Blair. Directed by John Waters.
Running Time: 89 mins.
Rated: Rated R

A Dirty Shame is the worst film I've seen so far this year. If you want to know why, read on. If not, trust me, you'll hate it too.

Sylvia (Ullman) and Vaughan (Chris Isaak) live in a working-class suburb in Baltimore. Sylvia is especially prudish about sexual matters. Their daughter Caprice (Blair), who has very large breasts, has to be kept under lock and key by her parents so that she does not get arrested again for public nudity and indecency. Caprice likes performing leud acts at the local bar. Her parents don't know what's got into her. In fact they are appalled at the changes they see in their neighbourhood - openly gay partners, exhibitionists, swinging couples and a liberal tolerance toward a variety of sexual perversions.

Vaughan and his mother Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd) mount a vigorous campaign to clean up the morals in the neighbourhood.

On her way to work Sylvia has a car accident and hits her head. When she awakens she is in the arms of Ray Ray (Knoxville) who is a mechanic by day and the leader of a sex cult by night. He convinces the normally uptight Sylvia that she is his twelfth apostle, sent to sexually liberate the entire world. She believes him.

I warned you that this film was appalling.

A Dirty Shame is a rant. It is an angry protest film aimed at the influence of the Christian Right in the USA, and its present domination there in regard to the public discourse about morality. The film's response to this is to present sexual responsibility as prudish, constrained and stuck-up. But even as reactionary satire, A Dirty Shame fails. It lacks any subtlety, or interest. It's just an appalling, abject rant.

Apart from the obvious and nasty digs at Christianity all the way through, what really got to me was that this film uses Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) as fodder for prurient, adolescent humour.

Having been a priest at Kings Cross for a couple of years, I have seen how unlivable an out-of-control sexual life can be for some people. SLAA is a fine 12-step program, which has saved some people's lives, and set them on a path where they were able to reclaim a faithful and dignified sexuality as a gift from God, or their higher power.

A Dirty Shame is offensive as a film, social satire and political commentary. Donate your money to SLAA instead.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.