USA 1998

Reviewed by Mark Kermode


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

In Baltimore, amateur photographer Pecker takes pictures of his friends and family, which he exhibits in the fast-food store where he works. Glamorous female art-dealer Rorey Wheeler stumbles upon Pecker's work, and whisks him off to New York City. After an exhibition in a gallery, Pecker is fêted as a naïve genius while his subjects are sneered at by the metropolis' art cognoscenti.

Back in Baltimore, Pecker's photographs begin to cause trouble. His best friend Matt becomes too well known to be a thief, his girlfriend Shelley receives obscene phone calls and his younger, sugar-obsessed sister Chrissy is visited by a social worker who prescribes Ritalin to calm her down. Meanwhile, his older sister loses her job at the Fudge Palace nightclub because Pecker has photographed its clientele in compromising positions. Its rival the Pelt Room is picketed for showing pubic hair, and Pecker's grandmother Memama loses the ability to talk to her plaster statue of the Virgin Mary.

When a Vogue fashion photographer comes to Baltimore he humiliates Pecker's homeless friends by dressing them in designer clothes. Rejecting Rorey's sexual advances, Pecker turns down an exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York and instead invites the glitterati to come to Baltimore, where they are confronted with pictures of themselves looking ridiculous which Pecker shot in New York. At the ensuing party, the Virgin Mary statue speaks, and the crowd toast "the end of irony".


The greatest irony of John Waters' career is that he has ended up loving and being loved by Baltimore, the town he initially tried so hard to infuriate. From being the most disgusting film-maker in the world, Waters has become something of a local hero, venerated for bringing an element of glitter into an area not known for its star-spangled potential. Nowadays one of the main reasons for visiting Baltimore is to gawp at the place where the trash-maestro first put a camera up someone's fundament and to see where the cast of Pink Flamingos inspired one critic to demand: "Who are these people? Where do they go when the sun comes up? Isn't there a law or something?"

In his fifteenth film, which the writer/director describes as, "my satire of a Woody Allen movie," Waters balances his affection for Baltimore with an equal contempt for New York. For Waters, the Big Apple is full of fraudsters desperate to be different, while Baltimore is packed with genuinely queer folk, a quality which makes Pecker. His crowd is much more likable than their big-city counterparts (making Dave Hardin's soundtrack rendition of 'Baltimore, You're Home to Me' sound oddly free of irony). From Pecker's girlfriend Shelley, Christina Ricci's fiercely independent laundromat mistress, to Pecker's grandmother (played by Jean Schertler) who talks to a statue of the Virgin Mary, and his father who staunchly asserts "pubic hair causes crime", all of Pecker's pals are affectionately drawn, rather than vulgar, caricatures.

Waters loves these people - indeed, their quirks seem drawn from elements of his own personality. While it's easy to read Pecker himself as a thinly veiled portrait of the artist, traces of Waters run deep even in sugar-crazed Little Chrissy, whom Pecker thanks for teaching him "that life is nothing if you're not obsessed." Pecker's sister Tina dishes up a classic string of Watersesque MC patter at the Fudge Palace ("This is Death Row Dave! He's a three-time loser who's been sentenced to the chair... but he's still got a boner!"), while Shelley becomes the auteur's mouthpiece when she realises true beauty can be found even in "the brilliant green of a grass stain, the subtle yellow of a urine-soaked sheet, or the aqua blue of cold water as it dilutes a violent red blood stain."

As usual, Waters' coy sweetness is tempered by an almost bloody-minded need to offend somebody. So we get to see two rats having sex, a man masturbating on a washing machine, a psychotic child snorting peas up a $10 bill, a lecherous phone caller (Waters himself) making pointed use of the word "vagina", and even a sub-soft-porno-style insert of 'beaver bush' which will presumably keep the film out of some family-oriented video stores. But when delectations of this kind are served up against the comb-and-paper innocence of such ear-tickling pop gems as Paul Evans' 'Happy Go Lucky Me' and Leroy Pullins' 'I'm A Nut', it's hard to imagine how anyone could take umbrage.

Cameos are liberally scattered throughout the film. These include a by-now-expected appearance from Patty Hearst as well as Waters' stalwart Mink Stole supplementing walk-ons for artist Cindy Sherman and art critic Greg Gorman, who lend credibility to Waters' broad swipes at the art world. Edward Furlong, Martha Plimpton and little Lauren Hulsey handle their roles with racey aplomb, but the show is stolen by Christina Ricci, a cross between Jane Russell and Norman Bates who continues to be the most exciting and entertaining screen actress working in and out of Hollywood today. Few people could bring such weight to the role of Pecker's "stain-Goddess" girlfriend, but when she tells an irritating customer to, "get out and take your tired wardrobe with you" it's hard not to stand up and cheer. Not quite on a par with Cry-Baby and even less likely to cause a box-office stir than Serial Mom, Pecker remains a refreshing reminder of Waters' spunky talents, and offers continued proof that there really is a very thin line between treasure and trash.


John Fiedler
Mark Tarlov
John Waters
Director of Photography
Robert Stevens
Janice Hampton
Production Designer
Vincent Peranio
Stewart Copeland
Production Companies
Fine Line Features presents a Polar Entertainment production
Executive Producers
Mark Ordesky
Joe Revitte
Jonathan Weisgal
Joe Caracciolo Jr
Associate Producer
Pat Moran
Production Executive
Claire Best
Production Co-ordinator
Karen Sirota
Unit Production Manager
Mark A. Baker
Location Manager
Debra Donaldson Dorsey
Gina Roose
Sara King
Assistant Directors
Michele Ziegler
Gary Romolo Fiorelli
Joe Incaprera
Script Supervisor
Christine Moore
Pat Moran
Billy Hopkins
Suzanne Smith
Kerry Barden
John Strawbridge
Camera Operator
Joseph Gallagher
Art Director
Scott Pina
Set Decorator
Patty Burgee
Pecker's Photographs
Chuck Shacochis
Virgin Mary Created by
Willie Richardson
Van Smith
Wardrobe Supervisor
David Davenport
Make-up Artist
Betty Beebe
Hair Stylist
Howard 'Hep' Preston
Stewart Copeland
Michael Thompson
Judd Miller
Supervising Music Editor
Michael Dittrick
Music Editor
Sharyn Tylk
Music Score Recordist/Mixer
Jeff Seitz
Music Consultant
Larry Benicewicz
"Happy Go Lucky" by Al Byron, Paul Evans, performed by Paul Evans; "I'm a Nut" by/performed by Leroy Pullins; "Uh! Oh! (Part 1)" by Don Elliot, Granville Burland, performed by the Nutty
Squirrels; "Woo-hoo" by George Donald McGraw, performed by Rock-A-Teens; "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" by Joe Young, Fred E. Ahlert, performed by Billy Williams; "Straight Boys" by John Waters, Stewart Copeland, performed by Vicki Randle, Stewart Copeland; "In the Mood" by Joe Garland, performed by Henhouse Five Plus Too; "Baltimore, You're Home to Me" by/performed by Dave Hardin; "Don't Drop the Soap (For Anyone Else But Me)" by John Waters, Stewart Copeland, performed by Stan Ridgeway, Stewart Copeland; "Pecker Man" by Stewart Copeland, performed by Damecus Metoyer, Stewart Copeland; "Swamp Thing" by David Ball, Richard Norris, performed by The Grid
Sound Supervisor
John Nutt
Sound Mixer
Rick Angelella
Supervising Re-recording Mixer
Mark Berger
Re-recording Mixer
David Parker
Dialogue Editors
Patrick Dodd
Richard Quinn
David Franklin Bergad
Sound Effects Design
Kyrsten Mate Comoglio
Sound Effects Editor
Malcolm Fife
Loop Therapy
Margie O'Malley
Marnie Moore
Benjamin Conrad
Steven Fontano
Edward Furlong
Christina Ricci
Bess Armstrong
Dr Deborah Klompus
Mark Joy
Jimmy, Pecker's father
Mary Kay Place
Joyce, Pecker's mother
Martha Plimpton
Brendan Sexton II
Mink Stole
precinct captain
Lili Taylor
Rorey Wheeler
Patricia Hearst
Lynn Wentworth
Jean Schertler
Lauren Hulsey
Little Chrissy
Maureen Fischer
Donald Neal
Mr Bozak
Carolyn Stayer
Miss Betty
Jack Webster
Outsider Al
Alan J. Wendl
Mr Nellbox
Judith Knight Young
'Fat & Furious' lady

Anthony Rogers
Billy Heckman, 'Death Row Dave'
Billy Tolzman
Seafood Sam
Brian Thomas
Larry the Lughead
Tim Caggiano
Lester Hallbrook
Betsy Ames
Venetia Keydash
Scott Morgan
Jed Coleman
Valerie Karasek
Redd Larchmont
Cindy Sherman
Joyce Flick Wendl
street lady
Liam Hughes
wild man of 22nd Street
Greg Gorman
Irving Jacobs
Mary Vivian Pearce
homophobic lady
Kennen Sisco
art fan a
Jennifer Zakroff
art fan b
Angela Calo
pregnant girl
Susan Duvall
Ruth Lawson Walsh
sneaky customer
Adin Alai
body builder
Emmy Collins
Brigid Berlin
super market rich lady
Kimberlee Suerth
beautiful girl
John Badila
irate manager
R. Scott Williams
Susan Lowe
Marisa Zalabak
make-up artist

Andreas Kraemer
Sharon Neisp
Delaney Williams
construction worker
Bobby Brown
average joe
Regi Davis
cop a
Tyler Miller
Randy, blind photographer
Channing Wilroy
wise guy neighbour
Rosemary Knower
Friends of Mary a
Kate Kiley
Friends of Mary b
Jack French
old fart customer
Doug Roberts
Mr Heckman, Death Row Dave's father
Patsy Grady Abrams
Mr Heckman, Death Row Dave's mother
Holly Twyford
straight girl
Joshua Shoemaker
Channel 11 anchor
Sloane Brown
Sloane Brown, Channel 45 anchor
Thomas Korzeniowski
toupé man
Susan Greenhill
voice of miraculous Virgin Mary
Lola Pashalinski
voice of Pelt Room announcer
Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd
7,765 feet
86 minutes 16 seconds
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011