Netflix categories The Dirt as a “dark comedy,” but more accurately it belongs to the new genre of victimhood/confessional documentaries that this film studio likes to produce. Like I, Tonya, which was the first of this type of documentary witnessed by your author, it admits wrongdoing but pairs it with a sense of being wronged.
The film follows the life choices of bassist Nikki Sixx as he escapes his broken home as a child, roams the streets of Los Angeles, and forms a band with guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee. They eventually find Vince Neil and recruit him from a cover band, and then rise upward into stardom as they fall into an abyss of drugs, sex, and excess as glam metal band Mötley Crüe.
Luckily for the viewer, the film zips quickly through repetition and only lightly uses concert scenes. It also does not moralize the absurd behavior of the band but portrays it in a cause/effect light, showing us simply what happened. It glosses over the gritty details of the rise of the band and focuses instead on “scenes from a day in the life” style pinpoint events.
On the way, it manages to be legitimately hilarious. The comical lifestyle enjoyed by these lower middle class youth on the cusp of manhood seems like scenes from a kindergarten, with slapstick comedy and lots of stuff getting destroyed. The first two-thirds of the movie are enjoyable in the comedy of errors plus thumbing of noses at authority.
In addressing the dark side of fame, The Dirt takes a mercifully brief view and then bounces back quickly. This avoids the maudlin tendency of many movies, although it may overstate brotherhood and over-emphasize the intense wounds these guys felt because of their dysfunctional or absent families.
Based on a book ghostwritten from stories told by the band members, the script sticks to the highlights and gives us a perhaps rosy view of some characters who probably did untold damage in their rampage through rock ‘n roll fame, but this also what makes it fun: it preserves the naughty in glam metal.
While it gets somewhat dark for the miserable events in these lives, it falls straight within the recent parent-hating genre much like I, Tonya and does not shirk from beating up the incompetently distracted parents of America. For a Generation X audience, this is a gratifying trope!
As with most of these documentaries, the filmmakers want to make the point that this film is not an accurate representation of reality, but more of a “personal truth,” which seems like the McDonald’s interpretation of what postmodernism in literature did in the last century.
However, this does not distract from what makes this film entertaining. It makes a few solid points, especially about families of origin, and shows us rock ‘n roll not as a realm of idols but as romper room with buckets of cocaine and bevvies of groupies, hookers, and stripper. For fans of breasts, it provides plenty of eye candy, some of it appealing.
Without intending to, the writers manage to create a perfect metaphor for a dying civilization: everything is wrong, so you might as well rage, at least until that also runs out on you and you have to invent the personality whose void you have been scrupulously avoiding.
If anything gives us hope for the future, it is the thread that tells us to accept this inner condition and the reality of the situation of who we are, so that even if your fate is to be world famous in a cheesy hard rock band, you should enjoy it and turn it into the best possible version of itself.
Some complain about the film being unrepresentative. This may be so; Mötley Crüe scholars will have to debate that point at length elsewhere. The film explicitly avoids actual accountability, and might be summarized by this quotation from the movie Tonya Harding in I, Tonya:
There’s no such thing as truth. It’s bullshit. Everyone has their own truth, and life just does whatever the fuck it wants.
That attitude was explained in further depth to a nation of abused children by The New York Times, which offered its own postmodern duality of truth in the context of a rough childhood:
A lot of what she said wasn’t true. She contradicted herself endlessly. But she reminded me of other people I’ve known who have survived trauma and abuse, and who tell their stories again and again to explain what had happened to them but also to process it themselves. The things she said that were false — they were spiritually true, meaning they made her point, and she seemed to believe them.
For every person who screams invectives alleging deception at that statement, many more will be nodding their heads because, to someone with no grounding or control of their lives, this type of fatalistic anti-value seems like a positive statement, both excusing wronging and endorsing wrongedness.
Nonetheless, The Dirt delivers entertainment much like the music of Mötley Crüe, essentially light faire with a few moments of profundity and a good overall picture of the comical, absurd, and confused existence that being in a glam band in the 1980s must have been.