This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Disgusting diaper-clad puppets, songs about roofies, and flying CG genitalia all land on the table for A24's Dicks: The Musical, billed as the Oscar-winning studio's first movie musical. And much like its title, the film itself is a bit of an acquired taste, one that will either inspire midnight-movie adoration in its audience or outright revulsion. The truth, curiously enough, is in the middle: Director Larry Charles (Borat) has boatloads of fun with the gleeful, absurd world he and his cast build here, even if its edge starts to dull the longer it goes on.
Expanded from a stage show that ran at New York City's Upright Citizens Brigade theater, Dicks: The Musical stars writers Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp as Trevor and Craig, two long-lost identical twins who belt in the opening number about their prowess both in the bedroom and the boardroom. (The twin jokes, of course, derive from the fact that Jackson and Sharp carry little family resemblance. The pair play their super-straight sales bros with all the swishy fabulosity of their IRL gay selves.) But when they both get jobs as salesmen at the same robot vacuum parts company — they don't sell Roombas, just the little brushes and so on — under a tough-as-nails boss played by Megan Thee Stallion, they quickly discover that a) they're related, and b) their divorced parents never told them about each other.
Inspired, Parent Trap-like, to meet their other parent and make their family whole, they switch places to fool their mom and dad into getting back together. Unfortunately, they discover their mom (Megan Mullaly) is a wheelchair-bound kook who claims she “makes her own sand.” Their father (Nathan Lane) has come out of the closet (“I'm as gay as a three-dollar bill, and just as thin”) and lives with two disgusting, ghoul-like creatures called the Sewer Boys.
Megan Thee Cameo
The songs, by original show songwriter Karl Saint Lucy and La La Land producer Marius de Vries, feel like pastiches of everything from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying to Hello, Dolly! to Les Miserables, studded with lyrics that delight in their vulgarity and absurdity. “It's a Gay Old Life” gives Lane plenty of room to do the old Broadway soft-shoe, and tracks like “You Can't Give Up” pair warm, uplifting “I want” chords with lyrics about destroying others' lives for one's own advancement. Ironically, the movie makes its only musical misstep in a track given to Megan Thee Stallion. “Out-Alpha the Alpha” feels busier and lacks the humorous pop of the rest of the songs. (The major crime lies in making it a middlebrow Megan Thee Stallion track instead of leveraging her considerable charisma into something that would better fit the show around her.)
As with the original show, Dicks rises to the occasion (pardon the expression) when Jackson and Sharp take the screen together: two wild, gleeful performers who match each other's infectious energy and go to some outrageous places by the film's third act. The film offers a vehicle for them as writers and actors, and they bounce not just off each other but costars like Lane and Mullaly — each of whom commits to the crazy things their costars have designed them to do. Mullaly makes every line about 15% funnier than it ought to be thanks to a thick, cartoonish lisp, and Lane tosses his dignity aside to spend several beats chewing up Boar's Head ham to spit at a couple of animatronic puppets in a cage.
They're Not Disgusting, They're Gay Culture
That said, Dicks starts to go flaccid (pardon the expression, again) the longer it goes on. The jokes about fornication and genitalia repeat themselves to diminishing returns — there's only so many times a movie can get a rise out of audiences by just saying d*ck and p***y before it gets old. The story rushes to a magical ending that suggests the writers knew they needed to wrap things up and fast. (Bowen Yang pops up occasionally as a very glittery God whose Greek chorus bits hang too bright a lantern on the self-satisfied transgressiveness of the whole thing.)
All of this makes Dicks: The Musical's greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness: it doesn't care if its audience gets the joke and will steamroll over any suggestion that its Dadaist jokes need a stronger skeleton. That can grow tiresome even for those who spend much of the film on its wavelength, even if the final number (“All Love is Love”) leans on lyrics so edgy it practically crucifies its audience for laughing at them. Even so, the unapologetic attitude Dicks has about its own nature will infect many viewers. The vibe hearkens back (in spirit, if not quality) to the camp revelry of John Waters. Amid all the cursing, genitalia, and copulation jokes, Dicks says something sweet about accepting and loving people for who they are — even if they're Sewer Boys.
RATING: 6/10 SPECS
Dicks: The Musical whips itself out into theaters in NY and LA October 6th, teasing a limited release October 13th before spreading wide October 20th. We’ve got the latest on movies in theaters now.