Pecker, using a cheap camera from his mother's thrift shop, has become
famous in the New York art world. The newspaper critic refers to his
work as "delicious photography of his culturally-challenged family."
(Trust a critic to use adjectives in ways that no normal person would.)
The locals in Baltimore, where Pecker used to work at a sub shop, are
much less impressed. As one of them points out, his photographs "aren't
even in color." They are out of focus too, but this is attributed to
the camera equipment rather than the operator.
In writer and director John Waters's PECKER, the lead doesn't just take
photographs, he obsesses over them with his shutter clicking faster than
a cricket's chirp. From pictures of copulating rats to ones of his
family and friends, he shoots everything he sees. The picture that
launches him on his career is one of a woman's pubic hair shot so
close-up that some can't even figure out what it depicts.
Waters, who is fascinated by people on society's fringes, last gave us
the marvelously funny SERIAL MOM, starring Kathleen Turner. His latest,
PECKER, has his usual montage of quirky characters, but the script is
more like an outline that he never quite got around to filling in. Some
of the characters and situations are humorous, but the story has trouble
The supporting cast is strong, with the exception of a formless
performance by Brendan Sexton III as a thief who is Pecker's best buddy.
As usual, Christina Ricci, as Pecker's girlfriend, steals the show with
her sarcastic brand of humor. She plays an angry laundromat manager who
keeps her nefarious customers on a tight leash.
THE BIG CHILL's Mary Kay Place does a wonderful job as Pecker's overly
generous mom. She literally gives the coat off her back to the
homeless. "We know how to make a dollar holler," is her thrift shop
Martha Plimpton is Pecker's boisterous, bartender sister. She works at
a gay bar featuring male strippers who specialize in "teabaggin'" --
The biggest problem with the casting of the film is the weakness of the
lead, Edward Furlong as Pecker. Furlong gives a vapid performance and
never gives us a reason to care about Pecker. An enigma, Furlong is
just the blank face on the other side of the camera lens.
Some of Waters's jokes probably sounded funnier in the script that they
came out in the celluloid. Typical of these is the long running joke of
Pecker's ventriloquist grandmother, who throws her voice to a large
statue of the Virgin Mary.
Although John Waters's PECKER never really comes together, it is
entertaining. The frustration is that, having spent 4 years since his
last film, he didn't come up with a more fully developed one.
PECKER runs just 1:27. It is rated R for nudity, profanity, sex and a
brief drug usage scene and would be fine for most teenagers.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes