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FEATURING: Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson, , Megan Mullally, Bowen Yang, Megan Thee Stallion
PLOT: Craig and Trevor, two alpha male salesmen, discover they are identical twins separated at birth, and scheme to get their eccentric parents back together to form a family.
COMMENTS: If you’re offended by a portrayal of God as a foul-mouthed gay Asian who’s cool with incest, you’re Dicks: The Musical‘s target audience. That is to say, director Larry Charles is targeting you, the way Ron DeSantis targets a Disney princess drag queen elementary school read-along. With consent jokes, vagina jokes, on-screen gay sex jokes, and (lots of) jokes mocking straight white men, Dicks finds ways to shock in this unshockable age.
Dicks‘ desire to transgress is its strength and its weakness. There’s a place in the cinema universe for mid-budget midnight movies in the “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this “mode, and they don’t come around that often. (Rocky Horror made a lot of grandmas blush in its day; the 1999 South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is probably the last major release with a similar traumatize-the-squares strategy.) On the other hand, it can be tiresome to watch a movie that’s this in-your-face all the time. At some point, my face got tired of having Dicks in it. I can’t say I laughed out loud too often, but I did gasp out loud at one grossout scene near the end (I suspect you’ll know which one I’m referring to when you see it). The funniest bit—perhaps tellingly—is a tongue-in-cheek post-credits sequence where Nathan Lane wonders how his showbiz career has come down to him spitting chewed-up lunch meat at puppets.
Despite not looking that much alike, stars Sharp and Johnson are indistinguishable, both to each other in-movie sense and in the function of their characters. They really are two men playing one character: well-endowed (or so they loudly sing) alpha male salesmen who score with the babes but are not-so-surprisingly repressed homosexuals. The real fun to be had here is in watching Mullaly and Lane as outrageously inappropriate parents who would (or at least, should) embarrass NYC’s most shameless narcissists.
Surprisingly, Mullaly is a great singer; equally surprisingly, given his long Broadway career, Lane is not (although he makes up for it with ace comedic timing). The songs are mostly amusing and perfectly serviceable, with Megan Thee Stallion’s “Out Alpha the Alpha” rap (which features her walking men on dog leashes) serving as the show-stopper. With its sneering Black-girl swagger, “Alpha” sounds just like a regular Megan Thee Stallion hit (I assume; can’t say I’ve ever heard a Megan Thee Stallion song).
The movie’s weird credentials come in the form of a pair of running-joke parental eccentricities: Lane’s pet “Sewer Boys,” two troll-like creatures he keeps in a cage and feeds masticated ham, and Mullaly’s detached vagina, which “fell off” one day (and walked away!) but which she now keeps in her handbag. We see it. It ain’t pretty. But Dicks ain’t about pretty, except for “that’s pretty gross.”
Dicks: the Musical is a strange project even for A24, which is now reportedly pivoting to more mainstream fare after the Oscar success of Everything Everywhere all at Once. This outrageous niche release buttresses their image as the studio willing to risk money on bizarre projects, but it’s ultimately a loss leader: the poorly attended theatrical release (a gross of a little over a million against its twelve-mil budget) will be followed by a much sooner than average appearance on VOD starting November 10.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a decidedly big swing and a genuinely weird take on the musical that has its moments, but also feels a bit stretched too thin given its concept. There are absolutely highs to this weird wonderland of genitals and Sewer Boys—especially with that third act—but for a comedy that needs to build and build to this idea justice, Dicks: The Musical too often relies on the same jokes told over and over again with a narrative that can’t continuously build the absurdity.”–Ross Bonaime, Collider (festival screening)