SORDID LIVES – Blu-ray review

SordidAdjective. Involving ignoble actions and motives; arousing moral distaste and contempt.

If you’re a film critic who’s tasked with reviewing the indie flick “Sordid Lives,” you start to feel a little ignoble if you come down hard on a movie that’s so obviously dedicated to greater acceptance of GLBT individuals and a live-and-let-live philosophy that can only lead to a better world—especially in the hyper-prejudiced South, where this story is set.

So I feel a bit like a guy in a Godzilla suit stomping all over a charity picnic when I say that this 2000 film, which is based on a 1996 stage play by the same name, feels staged, over-acted, and shot on such a low budget that it looks like a filmed production of a play performance. Sometimes it also has the feel of one of those socially relevant ‘70s single-camera TV sitcom, but without the laugh track. There’s a lot of SHOUTING, and there’s little letting up—except for silences that feel like shouting.  Everyone has an intense monologue to deliver, play style, and that adds to the artificiality—on film, at least.

Then again, it’s been days since I’ve watched this movie, and I still vividly remember Brother Boy, the black sheep of the family who dresses like country singer Tammy Wynette. And I remember Olivia Newton-John, whose singing of the title song and others is one of the highlights of the film. And Beau Bridges wearing a brazierre. But mostly I remember the black sheep theme and the roundabout road that any sheep with so much as a hint of darkness has to take, in order to find his way back into the fold. So in that respect, you’d have to say that the film, like the play, was effective. It just didn’t impress me while I was watching it.

This is a Del Shores affair. Shores wrote the play and screenplay and also directed. But he managed to get a great cast, including Newton-John, Beau Bridges, Delta Burke, and Leslie Jordan as Brother Boy. This film version won Best Feature at the Philadelphia GLBT Film Festival, the New York Independent Film Festival, and the Austin GLBT Film Festival.

In “Sordid Lives,” a grandson who’s trying to “out” himself to family returns to to his small Texas town to join other relatives in burying the matriarch. He narrates the story, but mostly this is an anthology-style film with an ensemble cast.  Isolated for 23 years is Brother Boy, the son who was an embarrassment to his kin, but there are degrees of “sordidness” in the others as well—including a daughter who is a little “loose” compared to her goody-two-shoes sister. And it all comes out, one way or another.

How you ultimately respond to “Sordid Lives” will be determined by how much you like dinner theater. The acting, though accomplished, fits that slightly elevated and exaggerated style.

Movie Met’s John J. Puccio didn’t mind putting on the Godzilla suit. He rated the “Sordid Lives” DVD a 2 out of 10. I think that’s a little harsh, given the quality of performances within that exaggerated style, and the positive messaging.

“Sordid Lives” has a runtime of 111 minutes and is rated R for sexual content, nudity and language.

Though “Sordid Lives” was shot with a Sony HDW-700 high definition camera, the cinematography is so pedestrian that it feels like a lower budget production. It appears to be presented in 1.78:1 widescreen.

The featured audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround with closed captions in English. The sound, like the video, has a low-budget feel to it, as if there weren’t a lot of boom mics used.

This combo pack includes a DVD of the film, but the original full-length commentary is also included, along with new interviews from the cast and director. A trailer rounds out the bonus features. It’s all pretty average.

Bottom line:
“Sordid Lives” offers the tagline “A black comedy about white trash,” and the latter is evident in almost every frame. It’s the comedy that sometimes seems buried . . . or else springing from the ground with a little too much dinner-theater exuberance. And the film’s pivotal scene seems to owe too much of a debt to both “Thelma & Louise” and “Nine to Five.”