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Sordid Lives
cast: Olivia Newton-John, Beau Bridges, Kirk Geiger, Beth Grant, and Bonnie Bedelia

director: Del Shores

111 minutes (15) 2000
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
TLA DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 2/10
reviewed by Ian Sales
According to Wikipedia, a black comedy is "a sub-genre of comedy and satire where topics and events that are usually regarded as taboo are treated in a satirical or humorous manner." The operative word is 'humorous'. The audience is supposed to find it funny. Sadly, this can't be said of Sordid Lives.

In a small Texas town, Peggy Lee (Gloria LeRoy), matriarch of the Ingram family, has died. She was committing adultery with G.W. Nethercott (Beau Bridges) in a motel room, but tripped over his discarded false legs in the dark and hit her head, causing a subdermal hematoma. Sordid Lives charts the short period between her death and her funeral, during which: her two daughters, Litrelle (Bonnie Bedelia) and LaVonda (Ann Walker), argue over whether Peggy Lee should be buried in her mink stole; transvestite son, Brother Boy (Leslie Jordan), rejects his psychiatrist's 'de-homosexualisation' therapy at the institute in which he has been committed for the past 23 years; and Litrelle's gay son, Ty (Kirk Geiger), now an actor in Los Angeles, comes out to his therapist.

The film cuts between these three plot strands, and a fourth in which Nethercott and his buddies talk in a local bar. Each scene is static. I suspect this is due to the film's origin as a stage play. It could equally be the result of the film's flat direction. Because, for all its supposed humour, Sordid Lives feels so lacklustre that it's hard to care about any of the characters. They bitch and moan at each other - with occasional outbreaks of minor wit - but it's as if every event of note in the film were recounted to the viewer rather than actually witnessed. The lack of incidental music doesn't help either.

That last is not strictly true. There is some music. Chiefly Olivia Newton-John, who actually has very few lines. But she does sing the film's title song - during the opening credits, once during the film itself, and at the end.

Sordid Lives, as mentioned earlier, began life as a play. It premiered in 1996, and won 14 Drama League awards. A television series following on from the film began broadcasting in July this year. It is apparently a 'cult'. And like all such films, you either get it or you don't. I didn't. I didn't care about the characters; I didn't care about the story. It looked like a filmed stage play, and not a film. I didn't find it particularly funny. Confucius once said that the funniest sight in the whole world is watching an old friend fall of a high roof. Perhaps that's what Sordid Lives needed: someone falling off a high roof. Or rather, something like that needed to be seen on screen. Peggy Lee's death is amusing in a macabre sort of way - this is a black comedy, after all - but it happens before the film begins. Perhaps if Sordid Lives had opened with a scene of her falling over a pair of false legs in the dark and bashing her head, perhaps then I might have laughed.
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