Olivia Newton-John and Beau Bridges star in an overacted black comedy of Southern white trash on a collision course with family homosexuality.
Directors: Del Shores
Producers: Sharlyn Lane, Max Civon And Victoria Alonso
Writers: Del Shores
Features: Widescreen, English Stereo, English Subtitles, Two Deleted Songs By Olivia Newton-John, Alternate Opening And Nine Deleted Scenes With Audio Commentary, And Director/Producer/Cast Audio Commentary.
Bitsy Mae Harling...Olivia Newton-John
Ty Williamson...Kirk Geiger
Juanita Bartlett...Sarah Hunley
Wardell "Bubba" Owens...Newell Alexander
G. W. Nethercott...Beau Bridges
Latrelle Williamson...Bonnie Bodelia
Lavonda Dupree...Ann Walker
Dr. Eve Bolinger...Rosemary Alexander
Ty's Therapist...Rona Newton-John
Brother Boy "Earl" Ingram...Leslie Jordan
"Sordid Lives" is a trashy, soap opera-like movie about two homosexuals whose lifestyles are contrasted with their families' dysfunctions. One homosexual, Ty(Kirk Geiger), is just coming to grips with how comfortable he feels in his decision to tell his friends and family in Texas about his sexual persuasion. Earl or Brother Boy to friends and family is trying to come out of a mental institution where he has been locked up for twenty three years. Olivia Newton-John plays Bitsy Mae Harling, a butch looking honky-tonk singer who pops up here and there with her guitar to sing a song ostensibly to tie the story together. This movie which was based on a play still looks and feels like a play due to overacting.
Grandma Peggy has died tripping over her lover's wooden legs in a motel room and her family is coming together in Texas to mourn. The cover of the "Sordid Lives" DVD announces that this is a "black comedy about white trash," so it turns out Peggy's lover was her daughter Noleta's(Delta Burke) husband, G. W. played by Beau Bridges. Noleta has thrown all her husband's belongings out of their house and is now at Peggy's sister's, Sissy(Beth Grant), house eating away her sorrow. Sissy who has just been cigarette free for three days is running interference with her own two visiting daughters, Lavonda(Ann Walker) and Latrelle(Bonnie Bodelia) who is Ty's mother. G.W. is at a bar where Wardell "Bubba" Owens is the bartender, who twenty three years ago beat up Brother Boy and caused him to go to a mental institution. In that mental institution Dr. Eve Bolinger(Rosemary Alexander) is trying to deprogram Brother Boy's homosexuality so she can escape her thankless job by writing a book about it and getting on the Oprah television show. Brother Boy is now cross dressing and lip syncing as Tammy Wynette, the country singer. As this is going on, Ty is in Los Angeles seeing a therapist(Rona Newton-John) to try and decide if it is time to tell his family about himself.
An interesting twist to "Sordid Lives" is that when Del Shores, who wrote and directed both the play and movie, talks in the audio commentary one realizes that this film is really about his past, present and future. Shores is joined on the commentary by almost everyone that had a substantial part in the movie except for Beau Bridges and Olivia Newton-John. As Shores discusses Ty's problems, it can be surmised that these are Del Shores' experiences. Shores talks about how he denied his own homosexuality to a good gay friend who hinted to Shores that he might be gay. His friend passed away young probably to 25S. Shores has his two daughters in the crowd at the funeral parlor near the end of the movie. In true white trash fashion, Shores says that the actors, Newell and Rosemary Alexander are his real father-in-law and mother-in-law. He never mentions his wife. When Ty finally travels to Texas to tell his mother, Latrelle, what he actually is, Shores mentions that he got much of that scene from his own coming out. Shores brings up the subject of Brother Boy's fascination with Tammy Wynette, but it can be clearly seen that the fascination belongs to Del Shores. His eyes light up and he gushes anytime her name is uttered. Being invited by Tammy Wynette to her house, as recounted by Shores was the high point of his life. A friend of Wynette's had seen the play and told the country legend about it. An invitation came to visit. Shores mentions that Wynette had a replica of a beauty salon in her house and kept her hair dresser license current just in case. Shores expresses regret that Wynette passed away before the movie was made. At the end of the credits there is a karoake performance by the entire cast individually lip syncing a Tammy Wynette song. One performer is edited to another performer as each is allowed a certain amount of time to "sing." Shores mentions that everyone, including himself and Sharlyn Lane a producer, mimed the entire song. The performances were edited down to one with Shores' and Lane's left out. With this performance it can be deduced that this could be the start of Del Shores' going all out and becoming Brother Boy.
Most of the cast overacted in this movie. That is the danger of bringing actors who mainly do plays into the more subtle world of motion pictures. "Sordid Lives" almost seems like a movie of "Mama's Family" the cornstalks are so high. Del Shores is to blame for this as he is to blame for not making the transition from stage to screen in the writing and directing. He hardly uses real closeups perferring to stay at a medium shot for most of the camera work so small nuances by the actors are lost. Dr. Eve Bolinger's acting is pure stage to the point she breaks out a flask in the middle of a crowded room to take a swig thus to show she is an alcoholic.
There is some male nudity with about six naked males walking slowly on a stage in a play. In contrast, Rosemary Alexander playing Dr. Eve Bolinger takes off her bra and shirt in a useless effort to reform Brother Boy. It should be noted that for her age she has a fantastic body.
This movie was filmed in Hi-Definition Digital which gives the picture a television look and not a real movie feel. In the commentary, Shores says that "Sordid lives" played big in Palm Springs, California and Dallas, Texas. He says the L.A. Times called the movie "for the gay and gray." That seems to be the right demographics for the type of people that would be attracted to this movie. Gays for the subject matter and grays because it plays like the televsion show "Mama's Family" which was a spinoff of the none too delicate "The Carol Burnett Show."