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With: Edward Furlong, Christina Ricci, Bess Armstrong, May Kay Place, Martha Plimpton, Brendan Sexton III, Mink Stole, Lili Taylor, Lauren Hulsey, Jean Schertler, Patricia Hearst
Written by: John Waters
Directed by: John Waters
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 87
Date: 09/11/1998

Pecker (1998)

4 Stars (out of 4)

What's in a Name?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Fans of writer/director John Waters are divided into two camps, the one that prefers Pink Flamingos (1972) while believing that Waters "sold out" with Hairspray (1988), and the one that can't stand Pink Flamingos and prefers Hairspray. I'm of the second camp. If you're of the first camp, you don't need me to recommend Pecker to you--you're not going to like it anyway. But if you're of the second camp, you're in for a treat.

Waters, now 52, has shown signs of mellowing. Pecker is a slightly autobiographical, but still irreverent movie. You can picture it seriously offending certain religious groups, but it's only about as offensive as There's Something About Mary, which has grossed over $100 million in the U.S. (Is it getting harder to offend people?).

Pecker is the name of the title character, played by Edward Furlong (Terminator 2). He earned this nickname because he pecks at his food. Pecker takes photographs of his Baltimore family, friends, and neighbors with an old beat-up second hand camera and stolen film. (Waters used stolen movie film for his first few movies.) The powerful black and white pictures (which were shot by Chuck Shacochis in real life during the filming) are displayed in the Sub Pit, a sandwich shop where Pecker works. Some of these pictures encompass the movie's best and funniest images. Pecker cheerfully snaps photos of rats noisily making love in a trash can; graffiti saying "eat one"; his sister (Martha Plimpton) working in a gay stripper bar (where we learn about the act of "teabagging"); his grandmother's "talking" Virgin Mary doll; an extreme close-up of a lesbian stripper; and his girlfriend Shelly (Christina Ricci) working in her Laundromat.

A New York art dealer, Rorey (the always excellent Lili Taylor), sees the display and makes Pecker rich and famous overnight. From there Pecker becomes a familiar rags-to-riches story. Pecker and his family are used to simple living and can't adjust to the price of fame. Thankfully Waters keeps the story moving with his gleeful disregard for taste, and we never get bogged down with people learning lessons. Furlong's wonderfully dorky performance as Pecker helps, as does Ricci's earnest obsession with her Laundromat.

A word about Ms. Ricci. She has become one of the smartest, sexiest, and savviest actresses around. She has very cleverly re-invented herself from "kiddie" movies like The Addams Family and Casper to adult dramas such as The Ice Storm (capturing the attention of the critics), to wonderful bad-taste cult movies like The Opposite of Sex, Buffalo '66, and Pecker. She's become a James Dean-type, pleasing critics, confusing adults, and building a genuine following of fans looking for the real thing. I'm looking forward to seeing more of her.

The look of Pecker is quite accomplished. Gone are Waters' sloppy amateur works of the 70's. Whereas he shot his first several films in a consciously amateurish manner, he now shows us how to put together a professional-looking movie. It helps that he always shoots in his hometown of Baltimore. All of his movies are love-poems to his city, but none more so than Pecker. For the first time, we get the idea that he's not making fun of his home, but truly paying homage to its beauties and eccentricities.

Most of all, I laughed at Pecker -- a lot. I had a great time. It was like skipping school, stealing some comic books, and reading them behind an old abandoned warehouse. The great selection of bizarre pop songs on the soundtrack adds to the effect, as does the casting of Waters regulars Mink Stole and Patty Hearst (yes -- that Patty Hearst).

At the end of the film, a reporter asks Pecker what he wants to do next. Pecker replies, "I think I'd like to direct a movie." We should be so lucky.

DVD Details: Extras include a commentary track by John Waters, an interview with photographer Chuck Shacochis, a trailer and photo galleries.

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