The Director of Borat Made a Musical Starring a Gay God and a Flying Vagina

The Director of Borat Made a Musical Starring a Gay God and a Flying Vagina

Movies

In a fall movie season without movie stars, at least we have airborne genitals and a fabulous Almighty played by Bowen Yang.

In the center, Bowen Yang wears a suit that looks like shiny graph paper, several gold necklaces, and a shiny-graph-paper hat, against a background of marble columns and pastel clouds. He appears to be addressing a crowd, and behind him on each side, the other actors look on.

Nathan Lane, Bowen Yang, Josh Sharp, and Aaron Jackson in Dicks: The Musical.
A24

As he introduced the world premiere of Dicks: The Musical at the Toronto International Film Festival, cowriter and costar Josh Sharp extended his thanks to the usual list of friends and funding entities, but he concluded with a nod to his union. “Thank you, SAG,” he said. “We didn’t know we could be here until yesterday morning.”

Because A24, the distributor of the raucous, buzzy Dicks, has already agreed to the demands laid out by the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America, its cast, which includes Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, and Megan Thee Stallion as well as Sharp’s cocreator and costar Aaron Jackson, should have been free to grace the premiere without violating the union’s prohibition against promoting “struck work.” But aside from Sharp and Jackson, only Bowen Yang, who has a small but indelible role as, well, God—a version who favors quippy asides and mirrored hotpants—showed up to grace the stage of the Royal Alexandra Theater just after midnight on Thursday. Director Larry Charles at least sent his regrets, and his presence was keenly felt in the film itself, which, to put it solely in term of his past work, falls somewhere between the controlled chaos of Borat and the bone-deep weirdness of the Bob Dylan film maudit Masked and Anonymous.

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With major studio releases like Dune: Part Two decamping for 2024—and more defections likely to come as the strikes grind on—the fall movie season will be more dominated than ever by eccentric, smaller-bore releases like Dicks, which arrives in theaters Sept. 29. (That’s not to say there is anything precisely like Dicks, but I digress.) For movie theaters still searching for the next Barbenheimer, that might be not be the best news, but considering how audiences stayed away in droves from last fall’s awards-bait offerings, it’s possible this could be a blessing in disguise.

It’s hard to describe too much of Dicks: The Musical without simply giving away gags, not to mention sounding like a candidate for involuntary psychiatric commitment. The short version: Craig (Sharp) and Trevor (Johnson) are identical twins separated at birth, each raised by a single parent with no knowledge that the other exists. (The two actors look nothing like each other, which is part of the joke.) Despite their disparate upbringings, their lives have followed strikingly similar paths, as hyperbolically heterosexual white men swollen with entitlement and a boundless sense of self-worth. In an introductory number, Craig swipes a cab from a pregnant woman, giving her a toothy smile as he slips in front of her; then we see Craig upstream an entire line full of pregnant woman to grab a coffee he hasn’t even ordered straight from the barista, raiding the tip jar on his way out. Both confidently roll through an apparently endless succession of female sexual partners, in a way that suggests not many come back for a second date. (Sharp and Johnson are both gay, as the text at the beginning of the movie reminds us several times over, mock-stressing their bravery at taking on straight roles and crediting the script as the product of “the first time gay men have ever written anything.”)

A corporate merger under new boss Megan Thee Stallion hurls the twins into each other’s lives, leaving them with conflicting feelings: unnerved that they’re less distinctive than they previously thought, and relieved to find that at last there’s someone who finally understands them. Upon learning they both have one more living parent than they realized, they switch places with the help of some extremely unconvincing wigs—invariably described as “cheap and shitty-looking”—to meet the mom and/or dad they’ve never known. Far from the ideal of parental love they might have imagined, though, Evelyn (Mullally) and Harris (Lane) turn out to be total freakshows. Harris is a closeted shut-in devoted to the shriveled, diaper-caged creatures he calls his “sewer boys,” and Evelyn keeps her anthropomorphic vagina in a plastic bag for use on the rare occasions she needs it. (That’s the bare-bones description; the details are even weirder.)

Even for comedians as broadly accomplished, and as accomplished-ly broad, as Mullally and Lane, these are far-out roles, and they take evident relish in pushing their own limits, in terms of both talent and taste. Harris’ sewer boys are nourished on fresh deli meat, so Lane grabs a mouthful of Boar’s Head, masticates, and then gives the puppet homunculi a showering of spit and pre-chewed ham. Later, he sings to Evelyn’s genitals as they take flight. In the outtakes that played through the movie’s end credits—this is the kind of production that doesn’t want to let the fun ebb, even after the story is over—Lane calls it the greatest humiliation of his professional career, and there’s both game humor and a sense of grudging respect in the way he bestows that title. While Lane didn’t show for the premiere—I was reminded, scrolling through past A24 history, that Toni Collette was absent from the Sundance where her now-iconic turn in Hereditary debuted—but we can at least hope he’ll have an opportunity to grab his flowers in the coming weeks.

The next few months aren’t exactly short of star-fueled projects, but barring an imminent resolution to the strikes, the stars themselves may be curiously absent: Leonardo DiCaprio’s head may loom large on the pulpy posters for Killers of the Flower Moon, but Leo himself? We’ll just have to see. Meanwhile we’ve got Nathan Lane trudging through the sewers in a Valentino cape and the leads of Dicks trying to hold on the spotlight. They could still use a little help, which is why, as the movie’s closing credits rolled at Toronto, the audience was suddenly full of figures in church robes, singing along to the movie’s gospel-tinged invocation of a homophobic slur, and the air was full of inflatable penises that the crowd batted around like beach balls. The stunt might not have generated Oscar buzz, but it produced something just as important: a truly great time.

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