Dicks: The Musical is a raunchy, absurd, hilariously wild ride brought to life by a committed cast, catchy songs, and clever twists of a familiar tale.
When getting in line for this movie, I had to tell one of the theater employees, “I’m here to see Dicks.” In almost any other setting, that sentence would raise way more eyebrows.
A24 has become my favorite studio in the film industry right now. Not only are they one of the few studios that haven’t shot themselves in the foot by treating their employees like trash, but they’ve made some of the most consistently interesting, risky, and often excellent films of the past five to ten years … so why not throw a raunchy musical parody of The Parent Trap into that lineup? Throw in director Larry Charles, who’s had no qualms with plunging into hardcore taboo in the past, and you’ve got one of the most off-the-wall, no-holds-barred films of the year in Dicks: The Musical.
Based on screenwriters Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson’s off-Broadway show Fucking Identical Twins, Dicks: The Musical stars Sharp and Jackson as two businessmen who discover that they’re twins who were separated at birth. Having each grown up with a different divorced parent, they secretly switch places with one another (which is easy to do because they totally look exactly the same, totally) in a ploy to get their parents back together. But this proves especially difficult when their mother (Megan Mullally) is a repulsive reclusive whose vagina fell off, and their father (Nathan Lane) is the gay adopter of two mutated sewer children. And the narrator is God played by Bowen Yang because of course it is.
Have I sold you yet? If not, you might as well check out now, because it all just gets crazier and grosser from there. I don’t know how in the world The Parent Trap, of all existing stories, ended up being the subject of this type of vision, but Dicks: The Musical is a hilariously wild ride where every creative decision seemed to have been accompanied by the phrase, “Why the hell not?” It is designed at all levels to provoke and bewilder the audience at nearly every single minute, while also calling direct attention to how ridiculous it is. It’s so, so, so, so stupid, but it’s stupid in a smarter way than you might think … if that makes any sense.
The best way to look at Dicks: The Musical is the same way you’d look at other parody films like Young Frankenstein or Spaceballs. They’re clearly not deep or challenging comedies, but they thrive because of the clever spins that they put on their respective source material, and how much they commit to those spins. What if, in The Parent Trap, the parents were so incompatible and deranged that the twins started questioning whether they want to get them back together? What if the obvious holes that would exist in such an implausible plot were called out or accentuated? What if there were sewer boys, talking genitals, and comedically vigorous sex scenes galore? I can’t believe the Disney version didn’t think of that.
Even some broader musical tropes are made fun of, like how people in the background are awkwardly stumbling around to be ready for a perfectly choreographed song number. A favorite joke of mine is how the twins sing about how perfect and successful they and their lives are, only for their next song to be about how tough it is to be them. The humor of Dicks: The Musical ranges from pure shock value to legitimately clever and even somewhat subtle … gigantic emphasis on the word “somewhat.” As many times as my entire audience was laughing, there were some jokes that I only heard myself laughing at because maybe not everyone caught them. (Or maybe I’m just the only one who found them funny and am trying to make myself feel smarter.)
The songs are generally really catchy and gleefully take out however little piss was in the “drama” of the film. Dicks: The Musical is clearly not working with a big budget, which means the numbers aren’t elaborate in their productions or even Michelle Lawler’s cinematography. But the humor, performances, and visual gags in the background and foreground keep the energy up. Sharp and Jackson are great at owning and embracing the absurd material they wrote for themselves, but it’s Nathan Lane and Megan Mullaly who unsurprisingly steal the show. I can see Mullaly’s goofy voice, speech impediment, and really bizarre dialogue being too much for many, but I thought it was just the right level of grating.
With that said, I don’t think anyone’s going to consider Dicks: The Musical on the same level as those classic parodies I mentioned. On top of it not having the same level of craftsmanship, the shock humor comes so quickly and frequently that it gets a little numbing and predictable. It’s never to a point where it’s no longer fun, and the humor does overall escalate over time, but I didn’t hear as many big, loud reactions to the film’s second half as I did the first. Most of the songs have a purpose and serve the story in some way, except for one that centers around Megan Thee Stallion as the twins’ boss. It’s a funny and well-made song on its own, but it totally sidetracks the plot, which God explicitly addresses right after. The film has other instances where it acknowledges its own flaws and stupidity, but the joke just isn’t worth the time spent in this one case.
Then there’s the ending, which I’m honestly still trying to wrap my head around. Just when everything seems resolved, a last-minute development pretty much results in a new conflict and second climax, one that feels like a wholly separate sketch that’s latching onto the film’s ending. And I have no idea what these final ten minutes are going for, what they’re satirizing, or even what the point of them is from a purely narrative standpoint. The ending is still somewhat entertaining just from a WTF perspective, but in a film where even the sewer babies have an actual point in someone’s emotional arc, it’s saying something that I’m scratching my head over this.
Granted, I’m sure many people are going to be scratching their heads throughout the entirety of Dicks: The Musical, put off and alienated by all the strange nonsense being thrown their way. In that respect, I guess it’s right up A24’s alley. Even if it’s not some brilliant, avant-garde work of cinema, I still love Dicks: The Musical for the sheer entertainment factor and how well it plays with its extremely absurd humor. It accomplishes almost everything it’s trying to do in ways that a lot of audience members – but certainly not all – are going to love.
Dicks The Musical premiered at TIFF 2023 on September 9 and will be released in select theaters from October 6 and nationwide from October 20, 2023, with a sing-a-long version in select theaters for one week only from October 27.