Movie Review / The Dirt
WORDS BY SAMANTHA WOLFE
Before embarking on the journey of watching The Dirt, Netflix’s new biopic based on the legendary group Motley Crue, I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew the motto “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” I knew the story of Nikki Sixx being resuscitated after overdosing on heroin. I had also read recent news articles of the band backtracking on a few stories told on the autobiography of the same name that the movie is based on, namely one in which bassist Nikki Sixx claims to have tricked a groupie into having sex with drummer Tommy Lee without her knowledge.
Therein lies the biggest issue upon making a Motley Crue biopic in 2019. The experiences they shared that were once the stuff of rock n roll legends, is now considered immature at best, sexual assault at worst. What is the audience supposed to feel when watching adult men snort lines of urine? Respect? Astonishment? Amusement? I don’t know. Clearly, people like me are not the intended demographic of this movie.
There are two ways to judge this film: as a biopic serving to portray an iconic and beloved band throughout their many highs and lows, and as a movie in its own right, a form of art intended to be entertaining. As a biopic, it openly makes up stories and exaggerates others, including a scene in which the band meets their future manager Doc McGhee. In it, the band gets into what has to be the tenth fist fight in the first 45 minutes, and a man later introduced as McGhee punches a party guest in the face. Guitarist Mick Mars breaks the fourth wall (one of many techniques overused in this movie,) and simply says, “This didn’t actually happen. Doc never came to this filthy shithole. We met him at the Santa Monica Civic Center after a show.”
As a movie, it’s also not great. What did anyone expect. It’s a Motley Crue movie, and it’s not trying to be anything else. If I were to comment on the laziness of the narration that only serves to highlight the films inability to illustrate exposition in a creative way, or if I mentioned the ridiculous and cliched editing style that makes the movie feel like a parody, or even a smaller point such as the film’s unstable tone, I would be criticized for not getting the point of the movie and being too harsh, since after all it’s just a Netflix biopic. And they would be right to do so. This movie isn’t pushing the boundaries of cinema, because again, it’s a Motley Crue movie.
Another point that probably deserves a mention is the sexualization and bimbofication of almost every woman in the movie. Women don’t have a place in this film except to be things to have sex with. Again, in 2019, it’s a portrayal we might’ve hoped we’d grown past, but it’s hard to avoid upon making a Motley Crue biopic. I don’t know that I would want to see the film attempt to humanize any of the groupies shown anyway, as the men in the band are honestly just as one-dimensional. The boys in Motley Crue? They fuck. They fuck a lot. They do drugs while fucking a lot. They play crazy shows then gleefully hop off the stage to go do drugs and fuck a lot. Tommy Lee falls in love and gets engaged, but still fucks a lot, and gets his dick sucked while talking to his fiancee. It was the 80’s! They’re crazy boys! Isn’t this so crazy? It’s crazy and this is cool as hell, right?
Things start to go south for the band in the third act, as Nikki overdoses on heroin, Tommy’s relationship with his wife falls apart, and Vince loses his young daughter to cancer, Vince leaves the band, etc. Obviously, these are tragic events that are rightfully included, though the execution leaves something to be desired. It feels as though the scenes were only included to get some emotion from the audience, as if some producer at some point said “Y’all are gonna include the heroin thing, right?”
In the interest of not being completely hateful, there were a few good parts of this movie. Machine Gun Kelly as Tommy Lee is actually not bad, especially when his character was introduced by showing his positive relationships with his family, juxtaposed immediately after showing Nikki Sixx’s less than ideal home life. The colors and lighting were pretty at times and felt like they were paid attention to, and the concert scenes did do a good job at portraying the atmosphere as a wild, anything-goes type of thing. It’s a competent film, which is more than can be said for Bohemian Rhapsody, 2018’s biopic of Queen.
It is of course worth mentioning that this movie spent about ten years in development hell, with a series of producers and studios once assigned and later dropping the project. Netflix, known for both giving showrunners a previously unprecedented amount of creative control in their projects, and also for green-lighting anything and everything, eventually agreed to back the project. Real-life Motley Crue also maintained creative control throughout the project’s development, regularly visiting set to ensure everything came across as accurate and realistic. Though their creative control probably means that certain events shown are extremely biased, knowing the band loved the way the film turned out says something.
The Dirt isn’t a great film. If you are looking to watch something that will make 90-something minutes pass, it’ll get the job done. You may find yourself checking your phone, saying to yourself “is that the 100th tit I’ve seen in 45 minutes?” but it’s all part of the experience. In the end it’s just another less-than-great biopic, possibly one of the worst, but it gets the job done. What else do you want?