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Case Number 07029: Small Claims Court

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Dirty Filthy Love

Hart Sharp Video // 2004 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // June 17th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Brett Cullum thinks that studios need to pay more attention to how they market their product.

The Charge

"An obsessive compulsive comedy"
—Misleading tagline from the box

The Case

Dirty Filthy Love is described as a "Woody Allen movie starring people with Tourette's Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder." No, you didn't miss a new Woody Allen film…but Adrian Shergold, who directed the picture, must have felt like he was channeling the "Woodman" in a couple of scenes early on. This movie would be your standard romantic comedy with some neurotic flourishes if it weren't for the startling portrayal of mental conditions in the last half. All the lightness and the romantic comedy disappear at the one hour mark, and the movie ends up uncovering something too scary to pass off as a comedy or romantic. Dirty Filthy Love becomes a harrowing portrait of a man who needs help badly, and has no idea how to get it. The marketing of the movie is a little misguided. The box makes it look like a fun little romantic comedy, and so do most of the descriptions on Amazon and Netflix. It's really like that only for a short while. More importantly, it is a pretty accurate portrayal of someone with a serious, life-threatening mental condition.

Michael Sheen (Underworld) plays Mark Furness. He is going through a messy divorce, and, to make matters worse, is falling victim to his obsessive-compulsive behavior and his Tourette's. His worsening condition forces his architecture firm to fire him, and makes it hard on his flatmates, who don't always understand what he is going through. His doctor thinks he is clinically depressed, and has no idea how to treat the symptoms, other than throwing drugs at the problem. Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones's Diary) is Charlotte, a patient of the same doctor and part of a support group specializing in these problems. She encourages Mark to attend her sessions, and also tries to persuade him to seek better help than what he is receiving. He scoffs at her suggestions, and begins to descend deeper and deeper into a state of uncontrollable neurosis. Because he has not gotten the help he needs, Mark ends up devastated and living in squalor. He lets himself spin dangerously out of control, and becomes a physical threat to his friends and loved ones. By the end of the film, Shirley is the only one who can save Mark from himself.

The cast is rock solid. Mental illness is very hard to portray on film, and Michael Sheen does a phenomenal job of making Mark's condition funny and frightening in turns. Dirty Filthy Love belongs to his heart-wrenching and gut-felt performance, which asks for a lot of any actor. He has to develop physical twitches, and scream out uncontrollably in unintelligible grunts and whoops mixed with very real curse words. He goes for broke in what could have been an Oscar-worthy performance had this film not been an English production. Sheen will be recognizable as "Lucian" to fans of Underworld; here he demonstrates how much of a physical actor he truly is. Mark often looks like a feral wolf later in the film, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to see the actor leap right into full-on horror mode. But he does keep the audience engaged with and sympathetic to Mark's plight—and that's no small feat. All the performances are solid; Shirley Henderson definitely proves she's quite capable of more than just the romantic comedies she's been given. She reminds me of a more shrewish Helena Bonham Carter, and she has as much conviction as Sheen, although she is given far less to do. The supporting cast is comprised of English actors who know how to handle the material without letting it tread too far into melodrama.

Dirty Filthy Love began as a play; this direct-to-television movie version was produced by ITV. Sometimes it feels like a Lifetime production, but it definitely has some rough material and language that basic cable channel would never be able to get away with. The biggest problem with the film is it feels constrained by both its budget and the medium it was being prepared for. With a little more ambition, this could have been a landmark movie, but it falls into a trap of being cheap-looking and rushed. Some of the camera moves are meant to emphasize Mark's condition. I teasingly refer to it as "Tourette's-cam," and unfortunately it's not quite as effective as the actor's efforts. Had they done more of a Requiem for a Dream camera effect (the steadi-cam strapped to the actor) it might have worked, but this looks like someone is just bumping the camera now and then. Some scenes feel like they should have been worked on a little longer to polish the dialogue or clean up the shots. The movie looks like it was produced quickly; you can tell they were grabbing coverage rather than thinking about quality every step of the way. Not that any of this negates the performances and their power, but it does hinder the movie's impact slightly.

The DVD is part of the Sundance film collection, and surprisingly has very few extras on the actual disc. The back of the box claims there are production notes and biographies, as well as interviews, but all of these are found on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc, and are not accessible on standard televisions. When I did open them on a computer, it turned out to be the film's press kit in an Adobe file for you to read or print out. This is something that could have easily been done on-screen, or even as a nice booklet. Other than the lack of extras, the transfers are quite nice. Clear as a placid lake on a sunny day with only some grain in night shots. The audio track is fine, too.

Dirty Filthy Love is a collection of great performances inside an okay film packaged in a misleading box. Anyone who is interested in OCD or Tourette's Syndrome will find it enlightening in that it portrays the disease for what it is—a condition that someone can not help. Michael Sheen and Shirley Henderson both give courageous performances that make it worth a look. I wish the production itself was a little more ambitious, and the DVD needs more features to support their efforts. In the end, it's a flawed product, but also one that manages to get its point across.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Hart Sharp Video
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• DVD-ROM Features on the Production and Cast
• Trailer


• IMDb

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