Pecker (1998)

Review

Pecker

John Waters lives in two worlds: the trashy and aggressively weird neighborhoods of his native Baltimore and the artsy society circles of New York City. Pecker is his hilarious take on what happens when those two very different cultures collide.

Pecker (Edward Furlong) is a happy-go-lucky teen who loves to carry his camera around town taking quick snapshots of the types of characters who have been populating Waters’s films since the ‘70s. He even lives with some of them: his thrift-shop owning parents (Mary Kay Place and Mark Joy); his foul-mouthed sister Tina (Martha Plimpton), who works as a sassy bartender at the local gay bar; his eight-year-old sister, the hopelessly sugar-addicted Little Chrissy (Lauren Hulsey); and his totally wacky grandmother Memama (Jean Schertler), who cooks and sells pit beef sandwiches on the front lawn when she isn’t distracted by her statue of the Virgin Mary, which speaks to her saying, ‘Full of grace! Full of grace!’ Memama doesn’t realize that she’s actually the one saying it.

Add to the mix Pecker’s intense girlfriend Shelly (Christina Ricci), who manages the local laundromat with an iron fist, and his scruffy friend Matt (Brendan Sexton III), and let the fun begin. One of Pecker’s favorite things to do is to head down to the nearby strip club (in a perfect Waters touch it’s called The Pelt Room) and peek in the window to watch the bull dyke strippers parade around shouting ‘Whattya lookin’ at?’ to the dirty old men in the crowd who chant ‘Bush! Bush! Bush!’ When Pecker is caught spying, he’s told, ‘Aint no peekin’ at the Pelt Room, Pecker!’ This is what great moviemaking is all about.

When Pecker’s raw yet compelling photos are discovered by visiting New York gallery owner Rorey (Lili Taylor), she decides she must mount a show in the big city to introduce the New York art crowd to this fresh talent. The entire clan troops up to New York where they encounter a huge crowd of phonies and poseurs, all of whom read way too much into photos that Pecker himself admits are nothing much. Shelly feels jealous of Rorey, Matt feels alienated, and the family soon decides that the big city ain’t for them.

But the socialites think it would be wonderfully fun and ‘ironic’ to get on a ‘bus’ to visit this ‘Baltimore’ that they’ve heard so much about. When they arrive, they’re treated to some old-fashioned Maryland hospitality that includes appearances not only by the lesbian strippers but also the go-go boys from Tina’s bar. Her screeching command to one dancer to ‘Teabag him, Larry!’ is a million-dollar moment.

Pecker is one of Waters’s happiest and sweet-natured films. When you stop to think about it, most of his stories revolve around families of one sort or another struggling to stay together, be loyal to each other, and be true to their vision. That’s right: John Waters is really a big softie, and Pecker is proof. Pecker’s happy smile never leaves his face, and his enthusiasm for life and his love for his large and crazy family never dims. The world around him may get weird, but he knows he’ll always have Memama, Shelly, and Little Chrissy around to keep him sane. Pecker is a perfect mix of depravity and charm. Only Waters could pull it off.

The DVD contains a commentary track by Waters. The man is never dull.

A peck of Pecker‘s pictures.