In John Waters' first film since 1994's Serial Mom, Edward Furlong (Terminator 2) plays a genial sub-shop employee with a passion for snapping pictures of the family, friends, and acquaintances who occupy his (and Waters') hometown of Baltimore. Things take a turn for the better, and then for the worse, when a big-city art agent (Lili Taylor) discovers his photography and he becomes the toast of the pretentious New York art scene. (One character calls him "a humane Diane Arbus.") Pecker may be Waters' most uneven film since before 1988's Hairspray, but it could also be his most charming. Furlong's photographic subjects—from his loonily Catholic grandmother to his sugar-obsessed little sister to his girlfriend (Christina Ricci), who's intensely committed to the laundromat she manages—are all the sort of beautifully realized eccentrics Waters does best. Martha Plimpton is especially notable as Furlong's sister, the cheerful barmaid and announcer at a gay trade bar. With Pecker, Waters again incorporates remnants of the shocking material upon which he made his name in the '70s without breaking the tone. In just about any other universe but Waters', a strip club run by angry, abusive lesbians and scenes of "teabagging" would be at odds with Furlong's sweet character. As with most of Waters' films, the superficially shallow plot serves as a vehicle to take on other issues—in this case the relationship between art and commerce and the pervasiveness of irony. It's a winning comedy, though some of Pecker's jokes inspire silence and some scenes are awkwardly staged. But Waters' films have always been like that; those moments could just be him keeping in touch with his roots, though a running gag involving a less-than-miraculously talkative statue of the Virgin Mary proves that he doesn't really need to worry about such things.
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