Not for the easily offended, or those lacking a sense of humour, Dicks: The Musical—which opened the Midnight Madness section of the 48th Toronto International Film Festival last night—is a delectably outrageous, endlessly kooky, and thrillingly depraved instant queer cult classic. Some movies feel like they are actively trying to achieve cult status, Dicks never does. It just has it in its DNA. It’s a gloriously filthy movie that John Waters would be proud to have made.
As Dicks opens we meet two conceited businessmen, hugely successful, if somewhat deluded and obsessed with their apparently massive penises, who are both lost in life emotionally as they strive to be top salesmen and impress their new boss (a terrific Megan Thee Stallion). Their names and personas are fairly interchangeable—even they can’t keep who’s who straight—but there’s Trevor (Aaron Jackson), who grew up without knowing his dad, and Craig (Josh Sharp), who has never known his mother. Both grew up believing that they were an only child. When they eventually discover that they are identical twins (Bowen Yang, as a fierce, disco queen-attired God, advises us to just go with the fact that they don’t actually look identical), they hatch a plan to get their parents back together so they can be one happy family. Turns out that might not be so easy.
Their dad, Harris (Nathan Lane) is “queer as three dollar bill”, a heavy drinker with an unhealthy attachment to his sewer boys, two strange creatures he keeps in a cage and feeds by spitting deli meat in their mouths. They’re “gay culture” apparently, just go with it. Meanwhile, their mother Evelyn (Megan Mullally) hasn’t left her apartment for years, and has stored her vagina in her purse since it fell off back in the 70s. The parents are thoroughly eccentric, heightened versions of characters that wouldn’t be out of place in a Charles Busch film.
Borat director Larry Charles brings Jackson and Sharp’s adaptation of their own two-man stage show to the screen for A24’s first musical, allowing his cast to have a blast (clear from the genuinely funny blooper reel that runs over the end credits) trusting that that would read on screen, without their performances ever feeling distractingly over indulgent. While the premise might be absurd, the music is taken seriously and filled with some darn good tunes—twelve original songs—beautifully arranged and sung, especially by Mullally and Lane who have a wonderful showstopping split screen duet. While most of the numbers have a traditional musical theatre quality to them—which works well juxtaposed with the frisky, NSFW lyrics—Megan Thee Stallion’s alpha female themed solo was clearly written specifically for her and has the flavour of her hits and all of the vibrancy that goes with them.
Jackson and Sharp giving peak Jim Carrey vibes at times, somehow skilfully manage to make the pair of hetero assholes that they play vulnerable, even endearing, and always grounded in the emotional truth of their characters’ outlandish journeys. They are committed to the reality of this off-kilter world that they have vividly created, and we go along with them for the ride. (There’s some hilarious opening text in the first moments of the film explaining that these are two “LGBTQ+ gay” actors “bravely” portraying two heterosexual men).
Then there’s Yang who is perfectly cast as a (spoiler alert) very queer God, that embodies an all-loving, accepting creator, bringing a sassy, radiant warmth to capital H-i-m, and making the most of every seconds he’s on screen. The real coup of the casting was landing three-time Tony-winning Broadway legend Lane and Emmy-winning gay icon Mullally, who are a delight to watch on screen together, they carry off the seasoned performer’s feat of both looking like they are having the time of the lives as actors while being throughly invested in their roles. It’s one of the qualities, all with an improvised, in-the-moment feel, that keeps this piece connected to its Off-Off-Broadway origins.
Dicks doesn’t just rely on its humour, but there’s real attention to detail in every aspect of the Steve Wolff’s production design. Keep your eyes peeled for the names of theatre show posters in the background of one scene, and the name of an x-rated “X24” release that’s a play on the title of an Oscar-winning A24 movie on a cinema marquee. Some of the best moments of choreography (by Jeff and Rick Kuperman) happens in the background too, like the office cleaner with his mop and a Central Park jogger behind Trevor and Craig having a heart-to-heart on a bench. Set in New York, the establishing shots are archive film footage of the city of yesteryear (“population 100”), while the exteriors revel in their sound stage artificiality. Valerie Klarich’s costume design is suitably zany and characterful, Mullally’s wardrobe as Evelyn is particularly stunning, while Bowen Yang’s homoerotic stained glass window print robe in the finale is a triumph.
Oh, and you can forget the queer sex scene in Passages that’s got everyone talking this year, Dicks has an exhaustive sequence that will save you the need to buy a copy of The Gay Kama Sutra that edges the movie towards its glorious climax. Ludicrous, and frequently hysterical, Dicks is a joy to behold. To misquote Kenny Everett, it’s all in the best possible bad taste. Bursting with creativity, this first-rate obscenity with a heart of gold that celebrates silliness in the finest tradition of Monty Python.
Dear God, (yes, I’m talking to you Bowen), please let us get to see one of these numbers performed at the Oscars. Even if it’s just so we can hear all those expletives bleeped out!
By James Kleinmann
Following its Midnight Madness world premiere at TIFF 2023, A24 will release DICKS: THE MUSICAL in select theaters on Friday, October 6th, 2023 expanding nationwide on Friday, October 20th (originally slated for September 29th, 2023).