A 'del'athon of posts on home-video releases of the films and performances of genuine wit Del Shores continues with the Mama of all his films; "Sordid Lives" (2000) is the one that makes Shores a household name in WeHo, SoHo, and many other Hos. The franchise includes the (reviewed) "A Very Sordid Wedding" and "Sordid Lives: The Series."
An amazing surprise as to the blu-ray version of "Lives" is that the pristine video and audio and the depth of the images when watched in 4K greatly enhance the "live-stage" vibe of watching this film based on the play of the same name.
This tale of a working-class family in a fly-over county aptly has 10 festival wins under its enormous silver belt buckle. These include the Best Feature honor at the 2000 Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, "best in show" honors for both Shores and the film at the 2000 Memphis International Film Festival, and "Best Feature" and Best Actor (Leslie Jordan) wins at the 2000 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.
The following SPOILER-LADEN aptly titled trailer for "Lives" shows how this film is a wonderfully raunchier and darker version of the southern-fried '80scom "Mama's Family (nee "The Family" on "The Carol Burnett Show.")
This sordid tale centers around Sissy Hickey (Beth Grant), who is forced into the overlapping roles of therapist and far-from-teenage diplomat in the wake (no pun intended) of the recent death of her sister Peggy under highly scandalous circumstances. Suffice it to say that the man who plays a role in that demise lacks a leg on which to stand as to escaping culpability.
Shores deftly orchestrates the inter-related (pun intended) action between four arenas of action before gathering at least most of the usual suspects for the climatic main event that is relatable to people of every socioeconomic group.
The abode of Sissy literally provides the "meanwhile" at the ranch element of this two days in the valley of the dolts. Even more epic hilarity ensues as her sibling Earl "Brother Boy" Ingram (Jordan) is enduring a decades' long unfortunate incarceration in a mental hospital. He is being treated for the twin "diseases" of being a homosexual and for a strong urge to go Full Minnie in impersonating Tammy Wynette and other first ladies of country music.
The conversion therapy session between Brother Boy and "Mommie Dearest" style psychiatrist Dr. Eve Bollinger proves that Shores is the lover child of Tennessee Williams and John Waters. The battle of wills between doctor and patient is classic for reasons that extend well beyond an argument as to a failed masturbation experiment.
Delta Burke of the classic southcom "Designing Women" steals the show as woman scorned Noleta Nethercott, who tracks down husband GW (Beau Bridges) at the local dive bar. Burke fully channels loose cannon Suzanne Sugarbaker in finding felonious inspiration from "Thelma and Louise." Although Bridges is well cast as a good ole boy forced to humiliating pay a litany of sins, armchair casting suggests that real-life Burke spouse Gerald "Major Dad" McRaney would have been a better choice. The appearances of McRaney on "Designing Women" show that he has wonderful on-screen chemistry with his equal half.
The final piece of the puzzle is the most autobiographical part for Shores. The death of his grandmother forces successful and dreamy gay actor Ty Williamson (Kirk Geiger) to confront several conflicting emotions. He is happy and well-adjusted as to his life in Los Angeles but closeted and unhappy as to his relationship with the folks back home.
Most of the scenes with Ty occur during a session with a therapist who is much more compassionate and skilled than Dr. Eve (of destruction). Even many gay men who are coming-of-age in our overall more enlightened era of marriage equality and of being able to both ask and tell (not to mention show and tell) can relate to his family not fully embracing this adorable boy whom anyone would love to have live next door.
All of this amounts to a film that, in addition to the similarities with "Family," can be thought of as a toned-down David Lynch movie about Mayberry. Shores provides needed warmth as to this nostalgia regarding a small town in which everyone knows each other, and whose own "quirks" allow finding amusement in the eccentricities of his or her fellow man and woman.
The bigger picture is that Shores shows that excellent writing and a strong cast that fully embraces his or her role are important elements for a film that remains funny and does not look dated nearly 20 years after its release.