A few days ago, John Waters — always one for perverse Christmas presents – gave us the ultimate gift: news that his show at Marianne Boesky Gallery next month will include a 74-minute video consisting of children table-reading a kid-ified version of Pink Flamingos. Not kidding.
Waters promises the G-rated version of his 1972 camp classic will be “even more perverse than the original,” but it’s hard to imagine it’ll be more depraved than The Gays, which premiered at Anthology Film Archives over the weekend.
As you can imagine from its tagline – “the family that gays together stays together” – this new comedy is clearly influenced by the Prince of Puke, and Waters even gets name-checked during one of the many dinner-table scenes in which the titular Gays (a married couple consisting of man’s-man Rod Gay and his “trannie” wife Bob Gay-Paris) instill ridiculous and retrograde ideas about homosexuality in their sons Alex and Tommy. (Dating advice: “Just because you eat a man’s ass doesn’t mean that you owe him dinner.”)
While Waters’s Dreamland consisted of his Baltimore cohorts, The Gays draws on a local NYC cast: director T.S. Slaughter and producer Paul Serrano (who last teamed up on campy horror film Skull & Bones) live on the Lower East Side; Chris Tanner and Mike Russnak, who play the husband and wife and were long ago a couple in real life, are longtime artists with studios in the East Village; lead Frank Holliday’s art studio is in Bushwick, and bit character Eugene the Poogene is a fixture at La MaMa Experimental Theater, as is Tanner.
Oh, and most of the film’s soundtrack was written by Kayvon Zand, who throws those crazy Museum of Sex parties — though the sit-com-esque theme song was penned by Slaughter, as was this smutty carol from the film’s Christmas scene:
The opening scene of The Gays lets you know what you’re in for: Bob Gay-Paris (a Divine type who is easily the film’s most endearing character) stands over the cradle of the infant she gave birth to via “ectopic anal pregnancy” (later on, a send-up of the exorcism scene in Poltergeist will show the procedure in all-too-gory detail). While she tries to get her future “mini butt pirate” to play with his S&M-adorned stuffed penis (“Scrotila the Hun”) and his mini “training buttplug,” a mobile consisting of poppers and anal beads circles above.
From there, the film jumps to a West Hollywood bar in 1997 (actually Luca Lounge in the East Village), where grown-up Alex recounts his childhood, horrifying his barmate (the proverbial “straight man”) by recalling how his mother practiced fisting with a lubed garden gnome. To be honest, some of the film’s “gags” (and trust us, there are literal gags) will horrify even the most jaded connoisseur of midnight movies. Lines like “slip him drugs and alcohol – or gag him, tie him up if you have to” evoke the sort of birds-and-bees talk Bill Cosby might’ve gotten as a child. The advice becomes even harder to swallow when young Alex, dressed in camouflage PJs and sucking a dildo pacifier, fails to put it into practice on a friend who’s sleeping over, and gets punished by his parents
It might have been possible to look past those scenes, but the humor here is very one-note. And that note isn’t sung – or acted – all that well. Granted, The Gays are an exaggerated version of the conservative idea of what gay marriage might lead to (and also a nose-thumbing at straight-laced sit-com families). In that context, it might have been possible – artistically and comedically speaking – to forgive the scene where Bob gets a beej from his young son’s friend (spoiler alert). But the movie doesn’t do much besides wallop you over the head with The Gays’ bad behavior. (Correction: “It isn’t good or bad, it’s just Gay,” Alex says of his parents’ misadventures, though it’s uncertain whether he means Gay, gay, or both.)
For all of its transgression, the material feels rather tired – maybe precisely because John Waters made Pink Flamingos so long ago that the only way to make its material titillating these days is to turn it into a kids’ movie. When Rod says that “for most of us, [promiscuous] gay life ends at 30,” his son responds with a line that might also apply to the movie: “Wow, it seems that all the gay people that live long enough become as boring and as lame as straight people.” And a movie that relies this heavily on butt-sex humor can’t help but become as stultifying as a prime-time sit-com.
By the end of the The Gays’ 74 minutes, you feel like you’ve experienced something akin to “CBT.” If you want to know what that stands for, go ahead and buy or stream the film online. If you own a scrotum, you’ll likely cringe — but as the theme song goes, “The Gays need not apologize.”