‘The Dirt:’ All of the sex, drugs and rock & roll of Mötley Crüe with just a sprinkling of filmic sympathy

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Within the first few minutes of “The Dirt,” Nikki Sixx’s character almost exactly sums up Mötley Crüe: “We weren’t a band, we were a gang—a gang of f*cking idiots.” As such, the Netflix film (based on Mötley Crüe’s book of the same name) dramatizes just about every single bad decision Sixx, Tommy Lee, Vince Neil and Mick Mars made while at the height of their fame in the 1980s. The film is a traditional story of rockers who party too hard and behave badly before some unfortunate situation occurs and they must shape up (at least a little) to get back together and rock out, but “The Dirt” is still an interesting movie in that it depicts the four guys’ rise to fame and the consequences of their excess.

Of course, the movie is very graphic in portraying Mötley Crüe’s overindulgence. Band members are seen having sex in bathrooms, backstage and at parties. Almost all of the band members use cocaine throughout the film. In one scene, Sixx, Lee and Neil even drop heavy hotel room furniture out of a window onto a man’s car in the street. Though these antics are common tropes in films about rock stars, their frequency in “The Dirt” suggests that, as their manager said in the movie, “Mötley Crüe did stupid things because they were Mötley Crüe.”

“The Dirt” focused much more on the band’s bad behavior than on their writing and recording music, so at times the movie did feel a little empty. After seeing the band do drugs and have sex so many times, I started to wonder if there was any substance behind the group’s rock star veneer. The film’s characterization of Mötley Crüe would make me roll my eyes at these glorified idiots in real life, but it was interesting to see the scope of Mötley Crüe’s excess in a movie—until tragedy started to strike.

Over just a few scenes, each band member’s circumstances became worse: Mars dealt with his health issues, Lee’s wife left him, Sixx battled heroin addiction and Neil’s daughter suffered from cancer.

The movie quickly resolves all of these problems, so character development was not as thorough as it could have been, though “The Dirt” does not aim to inspire connection between the audience and characters as much as it tries to glamorize Mötley Crüe’s insane lifestyles with a little bit of the consequences of living this way thrown in.

In an interesting choice, filmmakers skipped over the band’s rehab, having a band member instead gloss over it all as “a drag.” Though rehab could have been a place for filmmakers to show some of the band’s character development, the fact that they skipped over it reinforced Mötley Crüe’s notoriety. The band wanted to seem like they were in control of their out-of-control behavior.

Truly, it is this out of control behavior, the band’s crazy antics and bad decisions, that drives the movie’s plot. Though I would say that the characters mostly seemed to remain the same between the beginning and end of the movie, the dark moments of their lives that the movie depicts made me feel for them.

In the end, “The Dirt” was an interesting biopic to watch. Filmmakers balanced Mötley Crüe’s excesses with just enough sympathy that audiences cared but weren’t wrapped up in some sentimental conception of “the world’s most notorious band.”

Rating: 4/5


Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.

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