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Pecker

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Pecker

Starring: Edward Furlong, Christina Ricci
Director: John Waters
Rated: R
RunTime: 87 Minutes
Release Date: September 1998
Genre: Comedy


*Also starring: Mary Kay Place, Brendan Sexton III, Martha Plimpton, Mink Stole, Lili Taylor, Bess Armstrong, Patricia Hearst, Mary Vivian Pearce



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Mary Kay Place, an accomplished performer who attended a recent invitational screening of the film "Pecker" (in which she plays the mother of the title character), was stopped on the way out by two enthusiastic women in the audience. "Oh, you're Mary Kay Place, my favorite actress!" one cried out, in a manner befitting a wide-eyed tourist more than a New York cineaste. Do actors really like receiving this notice wherever they go? More likely they're embarrassed. If not, why would they walk the streets with dark shades, false moustaches, and baseball hats with low-slung peaks? You spend years working for public recognition and the rest of your career trying to avoid it. This invasion of Ms. Place's privacy--which probably echoes a hundred-fold each year for actors everywhere--is the price that celebrities pay for their status and ironically enough is one of two central themes of John Waters's latest picture, "Pecker." Waters unfolds a palette of colorful, blue-collar folks in his native Baltimore who gain their fifteen minutes of national fame. Like any who at one time put on a middle-school show and later achieve renown, they like the attention at first. They soon realize that prominence has its price. In "Pecker" each character in turn is deprived of his privacy and suffers a pitiful loss. In showing us this cycle of happy, homespun lives ruined by the limelight, Waters also sends up New York's pseudo-sophisticated set of fashion fixated gallery hoppers, comparing them unfavorably with the working-class people he apparently relishes in the unacclaimed stretches of backwater Baltimore.

Adventurous moviegoers remember John Waters as the creator of outrageous but accessible comedies like "Hairspray" (a fun story featuring Sonny Bono in a nostalgic satire about the a TV teen dance program in 1962 Baltimore); "Polyester," (a more mainstream feature about a housewife driven to he brink by her nightmarish family); and "Serial Mom" (a satire of Marin County, California and its residents' obsession with sexual trends and psychological cant). With "Pecker," Waters is aiming for an audience with just slightly more commercial tastes as he contrasts the earthy, though not quite bland, residents of Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood with the bogus Manhattan sophisticates who, to their credit, keep museums and art galleries flourishing but who cannot resist trendy schlock.

The schlockmeister this time is actually a nice 18-year-old kid, Pecker (Edward Furlong), who compulsively takes photos of the oddballs of the vicinity and who makes no pretense that his glossies are art. He captures his friend Matt (Brendan Sexton III) in the daily act of shoplifting; his girlfriend Shelley (Christina Ricci), who tyrannically manages the local laundromat; his kid sister Chrissy (Lauren Hulsey), a sugar addict who eats Domino straight from the bag; his older sister Tina (Martha Plimpton) who works at a gay male strip bar; his grandma Memama (Jean Schertier) whose statue of Virgin Mary frequently speaks; and his mother Joyce (Mary Kay Place), who runs a thrift shop and advises the homeless how to be fashion plates for a quarter an outfit.

When Pecker's grainy photos come to the attention of a New York art mavin, he is propelled into luminary status and is given a gallery show that attracts the city's fashionable community. The notice placed on him and the members of his photographed circle draw some unwanted attention. Chrissy is visited by a medical social worker who puts the chocoholic on Ritalin, turning her into a zombie-like carrot- lover. Joyce and her husband are written up in the fashionable journals as "culturally challenged." Others in his circle lose their jobs, and that's just the starter.

Essentially, though, Waters appears to focus more on the one-liners than on a story with a robust center, and the film must be judged on the success of these quick gags. Here is one movie, believe-it-or-not, that could profit from one of those obnoxious laugh-tracks popular with TV sitcoms. Each time a pompous New Yorker exposes himself for the fraud he is, he appears to pause as if waiting for the obligatory giggle. Whenever a white-trash Baltimorian shows himself for the hayseed he is, he looks almost embarrassed as if he has come onstage to do a neophytes improvisations rather than a professional's prepared shtick. A good example of a physical gag that falls flat is Matt's secretly piling up the shopping carts of supermarket patrons with inappropriate stuff: a muscular health nut is tossed Preparation H without his knowledge, another man is given a box of Tampax. As they reach the checkout counter simultaneously complaining that they had not selected the items, Matt goes to work on the shelves lifting every product in sight.

"Pecker" is suprisingly toned down for a John Water picture, and even its depictions of the activities inside a gay bar emceed by Tina would scarcely raise Dan Quayle's eyebrow. Christina Ricci stands out in this crowd as the acid-tongued overseer of the neighborhood laundromat laying down the law to a clientele of weirdos who do everything from pouring strong dye down the mouth of a washer to using a vibrating machine as a sex doll. The New York world of art cognescenti parody themselves in that city's museums and galleries quite well without needing a filmed lampoon, and the Baltimore working-class community are too close to normal to evoke more than a chuckle.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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