Growing up I was never really the biggest fan of Motley Crue. My friends liked them. My parents liked them. My parent’s friends liked them. But they never really stood out to me. It wasn’t my style. Their popularity always mystified me though, so when a new biopic about their wild and crazy careers and escapades debuted on Netflix it, too, piqued my interest. Since its debut last weekend “The Dirt” has garnered quite a bit of buzz including comparisons to other band-themed biopics and the wild and crazy details and creative liberties taken to present the history of one of the most notorious rock bands of all time. I finally had the time and patience to sit down and watch the movie myself and, I’ve got to say, this is not a film for the faint of heart. But, is it a movie that does justice to its subjects? Well, I’m here to let you know my take. This is my review of “The Dirt”.
“The Dirt” is based on the autobiography of the same name and explores the history of Motley Crue from the band members’ own perspectives. This includes the origins of the band members themselves including the troubled childhood and drug addiction of bassist and founder Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), the illness and life of the band’s eldest member Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon), the struggles and alcoholism of singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), and the chaos and crossroads in the life of drummer Tommy Lee (Colson Baker). After the band is formed and decide on the name Motley Crue, representative of their different backgrounds and histories, they embark on a wild career filled with dangerous and destructive behavior and drug-fueled shenanigans with band members often breaking the fourth wall as unreliable narrators of their own stories. The trials and tribulations of their individual battles are explored as Motley Crue becomes known as “the world’s most notorious rock band”.
So right off the bat, I have to reiterate that this is NOT a film for the faint of heart. “The Dirt” is a somewhat uncompromising presentation of a band that took the idea of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll to a whole new level pulling few punches in exploring the crazy and wild lifestyles of the four-piece heavy metal sensation that was Motley Crue. Without going into too much detail, “The Dirt” presents the antics of the band in a manner meant to literally evoke the jaw-dropping insanity of their journey to superstardom from excessive nudity and sexual content to a truly disgusting and uncomfortable scene featuring Ozzy Osbourne (played Tony Cavalero). To give some perspective in the two minutes and ten second it took for the title card to show up on the screen I saw enough that I had to pause the film and take a moment to come to terms with not only what I just watched but the understanding that this is the kind of content I was going to experience for the next two hours. In that short two minutes we are given everything we need to know about what we should expect from the film and it barely ever slows down from there, kind of like the band itself.
The cool thing is though, this approach works. “The Dirt” ends up being a fascinating, engaging, and outrageous biopic unafraid of taking chances and giving the audience what they need to understand the personality of Motley Crue as a form of entertainment. While I had my issues with the chemistry between the performers (more on that later) “The Dirt” holds nothing back in creating a tone and structure that seems to capture the same chaos and wild pace of the band’s life on the road. I’ve seen a lot of biopics in my nearly 30 years of life, but this might be the first designed to specifically actually reflect what it must have been like living in one of these band member’s shoes. It’s an interesting style. Like Motley Crue, “The Dirt” doesn’t care to conform to the expectations of the masses. It has a specific audience it wants to reach and it rarely compromises as it provides a neat representation of the outrageous and often drug-fueled chaos that followed Motley Crue everywhere they went.
While the personality of this film is awesome, where I start to have a few problems is with how it handles the creative liberties taken to tell the story. Like almost every biopic “The Dirt” includes creative changes to make things more interesting and help the story flow better in a confined timespan. What makes this movie a bit interesting is that we are warned from the beginning that not everything presented is actually true. In fact, there are several moments in the film where the band members aren’t just narrating, they actually directly break the fourth wall to talk to the viewer and explain that a change was made for the sake of the movie. It’s fun and creates an interesting scenario where the viewer has to judge whether or not they believe what they’re seeing, but it’s used so rarely that it feels random and threatens to take you out of the film especially when we already have voiceovers narrating the events of the story. I understand that “The Dirt” is far from the worst offender in changing the truth to fit cinema, but what at first feels like a fun way to acknowledge that this movie was made to entertain first and educate second ends up feeling more like a gimmick than a rare attempt at honestly in storytelling in a based-on-real-life narrative.
One thing I can respect from this film is how much it explores the personal lives of all four band members. A lot of biopics usually only focus on a single iconic member with the rest of the band as background characters. “The Dirt” takes a different approach focusing on the personal journeys of each member separately. While some iconic moments that should have been included are left out, like Tommy Lee’s relationship with Pamela Anderson, and some aspects of their lives are overdramatized, like the circumstances of Nikki Sixx’s separation from his mother, it’s pretty neat to get to explore each band member’s turmoils and addictions evenly over the course of the film. Every band member gets a specific low-point that they have to suffer from in the story resulting in some very dark moments that create a pause in an otherwise hilarious and fun screenplay. It forces you to remember that as crazy as these men were in their time they were also human. The problem here though is with a larger focus on the individual comes sacrifices in how the band as a unit is presented on film.
That brings me to my biggest gripe with “The Dirt”. On a positive note, a lot of the costume designs are pretty spot on so “The Dirt” does capture the image and fun quality of Motley Crue’s stage performances and presentation. However, I never really felt like the actors meshed on screen. The performances are fine and many actually very well done but the chemistry wasn’t there for me. “The Dirt” makes some half-hearted attempts at exploring how these four men turned into a dysfunctional family, but the focus is more on their individual battles and much less on Motley Crue as a united group. I never felt like there was any true brotherhood or bonding between them. The few moments that do try to touch on their personal connections, such as Tommy Lee’s wedding and their united attempt at sobriety, feel watered down and overshadowed by more hijinks and quickly developed conflicts meant to drive the plot forward. Sure we get a lot of insight into the personal stories of the band members, including some scenes that prove to be truly heartbreaking, but as a unit, this cast doesn’t quite stand out. Instead of exploring the creative process behind their songs we see more about the struggles they endured in their personal lives making their band sessions and stage performances feel more like a formality. I don’t know who inspired them, why they wrote the way they did or why they embraced their style except that they wanted to be different and offensive to the status duo. That’s it. That to me was disappointing because in a movie about musicians you really want to know what inspires them as well as what defines them as people and “The Dirt” only really gives us half of that equation.
I do have to say though, while it’s certainly not a film for everyone and it has its problems that shouldn’t be ignored, I’m in a minority of critics who actually enjoyed this film. “The Dirt” serves as a relentless and fun examination of the craziness that made up the lives and careers of one of heavy metal’s most legendary and notorious acts. The filmmakers knew who they were making this movie for with plenty of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll to tide over fans of the group’s music or anyone looking for a biopic with a little more personality. Sometimes it’s brutally honest and other times it’s self-aware about its dishonesty and that ends up being part of the movie’s charm. My biggest complaint though is while I learned a lot about the members of Motley Crue, I’m still left ignorant of their creative process or where their passion for their music came from other than to have some fun and entertain. I did appreciate that every band member’s backstory was explored but I would have liked to see more chemistry to make them feel more convincing as a group of misfits who became a family of rock stars. In the end, I had my issues with “The Dirt”, but I had a whole lot of fun watching it. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but if you have an open mind it’s an insane viewing experience I’d highly recommend.