There’s a lot of fun to be had trolling the glorious cultural dumpster fire that is Texas. This state larger than many countries has enough cultural diversity, even accidentally, to provide wild contrast between conservative and progressive, religious faith and unbelief, gay and straight, tradition and change. The deeply individualistic Texans tend to pick and choose which traditions to keep and which to flout.
Writer/Director/Texas native Del Shores has mined this rich vein of unselfconscious cultural contradiction for all of his career and his latest effort, A Very Sordid Wedding, is among his best.
“The backwards Southern dumbass as entertainment has become a cottage industry and growing tradition…”
This sequel to his uproarious film Sordid Lives finds the residents of Winters, Texas (Shores’ actual hometown) in a kerfuffle over a gay couple who are coming back to town to see family and to announce they are having a baby via a surrogate. The church is holding an Anti-Equality rally led by a pastor who declares the supreme court and the constitution subordinate to his faith. It’s almost as absurd as real life news in 2017.
The backwards Southern dumbass as entertainment (infotainment in some cases) has become a cottage industry and growing tradition led by the likes of Augusten Burroughs, Tracy Letts, David Bottrell, David Sedaris, and others. Del Shores has helped create this emerging class of works with his plays and films.
These stories are exaggerated versions of the South, offensively so in some cases but that’s what makes them funny. Leslie Jordan’s aging drag queen Brother Boy crying in her shrill Southern accent that the bitchy new queen at her show bar has prohibited her from doing Tammy Wynette numbers is comedy gold.
Being from and currently living in the South it’s tempting to push back a little on these stereotypical and overly broad characterizations in a “I can make fun of my sister but you can’t” kind of way (and we certainly do, unmercifully). Then one sees this sort of behavior in families, in the street, in bars and restaurants and one must admit that Southern trashy behavior can be funny as hell. I would guess to an outsider it can be even funnier.
“Shores paints the characters, whether they are good hearted souls or shitty jerks, with incisive wit, wicked snark, and more than a little affection.”
However let us not forget that each of these over-the-top characters was inspired by a real person and that the idiosyncrasies of Southern culture are just a different spin on the same issues that everyone has, with the possible exception of the crazy pastor and the Southern drag queen and the amputee barfly and the scripture quoting cigarette-voiced gay rights warrior lady. Ok, I take back everything I said above: these are uniquely Southern fixtures.
Shores paints the characters, whether they are good hearted souls or shitty jerks, with incisive wit, wicked snark, and more than a little affection. Having gay rights framed by the cartoon stupidity of the town haters is brilliant. The antagonistic character’s unreal hyperbole wryly illuminates the real life extreme thinking of hard-line conservatives.
Despite the relevant themes delivered with all seriousness and passion (briefly at one point by rainbow flag Reverend Whoopi) this is of course not a movie meant to be taken too seriously. One gathers one’s posse on a Sunday afternoon (after church), gets sloppy drunk on mimosas, PBR, and local gossip and puts on A Very Sordid Wedding to drink and smoke and holler at and practice your best Southern accent.
You’ll get a gay rights sermon with your booze and cigarettes and Southern charm the way the good lord intended.
A Very Sordid Wedding (2017) Written and directed by Del Shores. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Bonnie Bedelia, Dale Dickey, Leslie Jordan.
8 out of 10