There’s a moment in Dicks: The Musical (which was my “Redemption Reel” for September but I only got a chance to see it this past weekend thanks to two late delays in release) where you realize that just like Larry Charles’ previous work (Borat, The Dictator, Religulous, etc.), absolutely nothing will be sacred, anything is fair game for a quick laugh, and any semblance of commitment to high-minded production values is quickly defenestrated. Thankfully, that moment is literally the very first one, where on-screen text describes the film as two gay men adapting their own musical where they play two heterosexual men, “which is brave.” Right from the opening frame, you know that this is nothing more than a silly trifle meant to make you forget your troubles and laugh for 85 minutes, and thank goodness for that.
Everybody has their go-to “popcorn” movie. I know the studios and entertainment media like to use that phrase to refer to summer blockbusters and tentpole pictures, but really it’s for any film where you can just turn your brain off and enjoy. For some people, the CGI summer explosion fests are exactly that. For me, it’s goofball R-rated comedies, especially the ones that are just smart enough to have a message buried underneath all the shock value. That’s exactly what Dicks: The Musical is, and it doesn’t hide its intentional chintziness for even a second.
In a way, that’s sort of the point. The whole affair — adapted by stars Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson from their own off-(off off off)-Broadway two-man stage show — is an old-timey flamboyant and enthusiastic take on toxic masculinity and entitlement culture, framed within the basic story structure of The Parent Trap. The very nature of the song-and-dance routines contrast perfectly with the faux-hetero projection, showing just how antithetical the behavior can truly be. There is very clever commentary on corporate competitiveness, bro culture, gender and power dynamics, and the destructive nature of overinflated egos. And if you want that intellectual stimulation, that’s great. You’ll get it. Meanwhile, the rest of us are just giggling incessantly to the sight of Nathan Lane belting out the line, “I’m desperate for your snatch!” with no hint of irony. It really does blend that well.
Sharp and Jackson, whose original play was called Fucking Identical Twins, star as Craig Tiddle and Trevor Brock, two hot shot salesmen who’ve never met each other despite living on opposite ends of the same building. Their two companies have merged, and now they work for Gloria (rapper Megan Thee Stallion in her feature film debut) selling replacement parts for “Vroomba” robot vacuums (as they explain often, and in great detail, they don’t sell the vacuums, they sell wheels, gears, and itty-bitty little brushes for them). Announcing themselves to the world via the hilarious and catchy “I’ll Always Be On Top,” the pair are shown to be mirror images of each other from a personality standpoint (they both sell extremely well, bed beautiful women, and take full advantage of every white privilege they have), so much so that Gloria and others tell them they could be twins even though they really don’t look alike (Jackson looks slightly taller, has a bigger nose, and wider eyes).
One night while burning the proverbial midnight oil in hopes of one-upping each other, they individually and then collectively mourn the fact that they didn’t have a normal upbringing (“It’s true. Single parent households aren’t real families,” quips Trevor in what I’m sure will be the official slogan of next year’s CPAC convention) through the very ironic “No One Understands.” Pulling out two halves of a broken heart pendant that they both have, the two realize they really are twins separated at birth.
This newfound discovery of one another compels them to switch places and convince their respective parents to get back together so that they can be the family they never had. This proves difficult, however, as neither parent is what the other imagined. Craig visits Evelyn (Megan Mullaly) hoping that she’s not a sad, creepy old lady only to learn that she is exactly that. Evelyn is a wheelchair-bound shut-in (she can use her legs, she just chooses not to walk) who talks to — and fornicates with — her various tchotchkes despite the fact that she has no vagina (trust me, the eventual visual is more stunning than you can imagine), and appears to be affected by a lisp and an early onset of dementia. Trevor, meanwhile, meets his father Harris (Lane), praying that he’s a man’s man who’s good at sports and will play catch with him. Instead Harris takes the opportunity to come out to his son, revealing that he’s not only gay, but that he never leaves the house because he has to watch over his “Sewer Boys,” two grotesque mutant lizard puppets ostensibly voiced by Tom Kenny and Frank Todaro that Harris fished out of the New York sewers, fed via regurgitation of deli ham spat from his mouth that is conveniently stored in the anus of a nude sculpture.
With every passing scene, it becomes clear that the only thing that mattered in the overall process was a constant raising of the bar of inappropriateness. The more fucked up an idea was, the more likely it made it into the final cut. In a weird sort of way, it makes perfect sense. It doesn’t matter that the “Sewer Boys” are obvious marionettes (outtakes during the credits show that they had bars behind them for movement that were edited out in post), or that even with the use of wigs to change their hairstyles (Craig’s is a Beatles-esque mop top while Trevor’s is shoulder length and flowing) no one outside the movie would think that they’re identical, or that the sets are very obviously soundstages and backlots (I want to say it’s mostly the Warner Bros. lot; I’ve worked there a few times and a lot of the building facades looked familiar, but I could be wrong), or that one dramatic pull back shot didn’t even bother to keep the dolly tracks out of frame (honestly I think that last one was intentional to show off the cheap nature of the production). The only true concern was making things as over-the-top absurd as possible to keep the laughs going at a constant clip. The only production decision that was somewhat advanced was having the cast sing live on set rather than lip syncing to a previous recording. Yeah, somehow this movie can share something in common with 2012’s Les Misérables. Who would’ve thought?
The music only elevates the comedy, as nearly every number is a stylistic parody of Broadway standards, complementing the dramatic riffs taking place on screen. “No One Understands” is the standard “longing for more” ballad. “All Love is Love,” featuring Nick Offerman in a cameo role and Bowen Yang as a very gay God, is the big show-stopping ensemble piece. “I’ll Always Be On Top” is the high-energy introduction to the main characters like you see in so many shows. “Lonely” is literally a mournful duet from Evelyn and Harris about being, you guessed it, lonely. Seriously, they sing the word “lonely” more than any other single word in the song. The lone exception to this pattern is the one true original song for the film, “Out Alpha the Alpha,” performed by MTS as she asserts her girl boss powers midway through, firing Craig and Trevor for wasting so much time on their scheme rather than working. This still kind of fits in the Broadway vein, doubling as a power anthem and a villain song, but musically and stylistically it’s quite different from the rest of the soundtrack, playing in a different key and tempo with some super fast rapping in the bridge. Hey, when you’ve got the biggest name in hip hop at the moment in your film, use her to full effect.
If there’s one major flaw to be had, it’s in the pacing. The movie isn’t even an hour and a half long, but you can tell by the time the whole family is diving into the sewers to chase the puppets that the train is starting to run out of steam. It’s still silly and delightful, don’t get me wrong. But whereas before you could dismiss all the logical inconsistencies for the sake of the comedy (like how neither Harris nor Evelyn questions why their incognito sons don’t remember basic facts about their upbringings), when we get to the admittedly shocking and weirdly apropos resolution for the leads, it kind of feels like we’re just trying to sprint to the end. It’s not all that big of a problem, but it is noticeable, and if this had somehow run to two hours, I get the feeling the audience would have gotten bored fast.
A film — and a musical — like this will invariably invite comparisons to the likes of South Park and The Book of Mormon, and in that respect, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are still the clear kings of the form. But there’s plenty of room in this world for multiple duos who deal in jaw-dropping humor. Dicks: The Musical doesn’t exactly earn any of the false pathos it tries to wring, but again, that’s sort of the point. Most of the jokes are fantastic (I’ll admit the ham spitting grossed me out, but that’s because I don’t like ham or spitting in general, and the gag was stretched out enough that it felt like overkill), the completely bonkers nature of the story still makes an odd kind of sense on a meta level, the performances are fully committed and you can tell everyone’s having a blast, and the sheer weirdness of it all is strangely endearing in a vacuum (which they don’t sell; remember, only wheels, gears, and itty-bitty little brushes). In short, while not exactly game-changing, it is the perfect project for A24’s first ever musical.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What’s your favorite musical comedy? Would you let Megan Thee Stallion put a leash on you, and if not, why are you a liar? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content!