Cecil B. Demented (John Waters, 2000, USA/France)

                While not the best John Waters’ film, Cecil B. Demented is still a good deal of fun. Harkening back to Waters’ early films about psychotic bands of misfits, the film tells the story of Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff), an insane underground filmmaker, who captures famous Hollywood actress Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) and forces her to star in his indie film. Cecil is surrounded by a cast of misfits – many of whom, such as Michael Shannon and Maggie Gyllenhaal, became quite big celebrities. All of the misfits have a particular aesthetic and the name of their favorite director tattooed on their arm. Fittingly, Patty Hearst makes a cameo in the film.

               While the premise of Cecil B. Demented is great, the execution in practice is a mixed bag. Some scenes, such as when Cecil’s crew enlist the help of adult movie theater attendees, are hilarious. Others, including the crew’s first capture of Honey, are less funny. Still, the film moves along at such a swift pace, and the running time is short enough that it feels breezy. Stephen Dorff plays Cecil straight with a manic intensity, spouting off his filmmaking philosophy and hatred of mainstream cinema non-stop. Melanie Griffith plays Honey Whitlock with a self-referential winking nod.

               Cecil B. Demented is probably most enjoyable for people who are already familiar with Waters’ body of work and his obsessions. It also helps to be a cinephile. If Cecil B. Demented fails anywhere, some of the aesthetic choices are a bit underwhelming. While the inclusion of grindcore band The Locust is a great choice, some of the instrumental rock soundtrack sounds a bit generic. Likewise, some of the sets feel a bit uninspired. That being said, Baltimore makes a convincing setting for the film overall, and a lot of the scenes make significant use of the city and its various sites.



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