My World Of Flops is Nathan Rabin’s survey of books, television shows, musical releases, or other forms of entertainment that were financial flops, critical failures, or lack a substantial cult following.
Jenny McCarthy is known today primarily as a self-proclaimed expert on the relationship between vaccinations and autism. McCarthy has used the platform she earned by modeling topless extensively throughout her 20s to alert the public about the infinitesimal dangers posed by vaccinating babies. But when McCarthy exploded onto the public consciousness in the 1990s, it was as Playboy’s Playmate Of The Month for April 1993. McCarthy then leveraged that success into being named Playmate Of The Year.
A rising McCarthy used her Playboy fame as a springboard to launch a television and film career that involved small parts in movies like The Stupids before her star-making turn as the co-host of the hit MTV dating competition show Singled Out, alongside up-and-coming comedian Chris Hardwick. Who could have guessed that of the two hosts on Singled Out, one would become best known for their crackpot ideas about medicine while the other would re-invent himself with spectacular success as our head geek and one of the driving forces behind the nerdification of American pop culture? It’s crazy to think that these two wildly dissimilar figures once shared the same cultural space, literally and metaphorically.
McCarthy was no mere generic sexpot. She might have looked like every other Playmate ever, but she had a secret affinity that briefly threatened to make her a breakout star. McCarthy was a conventionally sexy woman who, for the sake of humor, was willing to pretend to fart and then make a really goofy face. In her radiant youth, McCarthy savvily built a multimedia empire by combining sex and comedy, cleavage and fart jokes, boobs and feces-related humor.
McCarthy wasn’t exactly funny. But she was vulgar and unapologetic, and for a lot of people, that was enough. As Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary ruled the box office, McCarthy’s calculating combination of boobs and scatological humor made her a fantasy girl for the Maxim demographic. It helps that the bar for people finding Playmates funny is so low that the fact that McCarthy showed an interest in making people chuckle in addition to facilitating masturbation was enough to make her the Lucille Ball of the Hef set.
After graduating from Playboy University, McCarthy starred in both an eponymous sketch show and a sitcom. Neither was a success, and by 2005, McCarthy’s star had fallen considerably. Her network sitcom was canceled after just 10 episodes, leaving seven episodes unaired. In 2005, McCarthy once again gave television comedy a spin and this time her vehicle, The Bad Girl’s Guide, lasted all of six episodes.
With a TV career going nowhere, McCarthy set her sights on the big screen with a vehicle that would be the purest possible expression of McCarthy’s sensibility. McCarthy didn’t just star in the movie, she wrote it as well, and her then-husband directed. So she really only had herself to blame for the film’s astonishingly vast failure.
Audiences didn’t reject Dirty Love, McCarthy’s 2005 would-be breakout cinematic smash; they damn near projectile-vomited in disgust, then desperately tried to forget that the film ever existed in the first place. Amazon usefully summarizes the film’s premise as “A woman in search of her one true love encounters one hilarious circumstance after another.” McCarthy is Rebecca, a photographer who opens the film opining about the wonder of love while a montage of romantic images of her romping about with her Ken doll of a boyfriend attests to her former happiness.
We’re then thrust into the present, and Rebecca is so despondent about finding her boyfriend in bed with another women that she screams incoherently on a public street before accosting prostitutes to ask if she can join their trade. She vows that she doesn’t care if her vagina becomes so diseased that it falls off; she might as well be a streetwalker if she can’t find true love. In a fit of deranged self-abasement, Rebecca offers her ass to a random stranger, who is understandably more horrified than titillated.
This opening establishes a level of desperation you’d imagine would be hard to sustain for more than a scene or two. Yet Dirty Love somehow manages to keep it up until the end credits. In lazy romantic-comedy tradition, our charmless, screeching, hot mess of a protagonist spends the film chasing the wrong studs, unaware that the man of her dreams has been right beside her all along, making puppy dog eyes at her in his unfortunate capacity as her endlessly supportive, understanding and patient friend. John, the lovelorn sap played by American Pie’s Eddie Kaye Thomas, manages to be the only man in the film who isn’t a flaming garbage fire of a human being. Dirty Love often feels sexist and gross, but to give it credit, it hates men just as much as it hates women.
Early in the film, John finally musters up the courage to tell Rebecca that she’s a fool for constantly lusting after terrible men when the right man, the man she is destined to fall in love with, could very well be sitting right next to her, in the very diner where they’re talking. Rebecca, however, is so pathologically oblivious that she takes John’s advice by immediately proposing no-strings sex with the other guy she was seated next to at the diner. The stranger happily acquiesces and before long Rebecca is rolling hard on Ecstasy when she finds her would-be one night stand buck naked on his bed with a bass up his ass. Literally.
That’s how it goes in Dirty Love. Behind door one lies the man of your dreams—a good, decent, and kind man who has proven his love and loyalty over and over again. Behind door number two lies a good-looking but clearly insane weirdo who wants to get you fucked up on Ecstasy and acid before angrily demanding that you indulge his sexual fetish for having a large fish protruding out of his anus. Although the choice between these two options should be pretty clear, that doesn’t keep Rebecca from barging aggressively and enthusiastically through various doors number two throughout the film before finally coming to her senses at the end and realizing what we’ve understood since John’s first appearance: It’s better to be with a good man who loves you than a series of verbally abusive assholes.
Rebecca is aided in her quest to find her prince, with various sidelines into offering herself up sexually to an endless series of frogs, by her best friends Carrie (Kam Heskin), a dithering, baby-voiced sexpot whose persona suggests Marilyn Monroe following extensive brain damage, and Michelle (Carmen Electra, another proud graduate of the Hugh Hefner Comedy University), who is such a shameless collection of racist black stereotypes that she embarrasses a race she doesn’t even belong to.
These deep thinkers try to help Rebecca get revenge on her ex by setting her up on a date with a man who talks exactly like Woody Allen at a fashion show where her former boyfriend will be strutting down the runway. But their plan backfires when the Allen doppelgänger climactically vomits on Rebecca’s cleavage in clear view of her ex. A humiliated Rebecca runs out of the building and once again starts screeching almost incoherently while making such a mess of herself that her vomit-covered breasts pop out of her shirt and begin flapping around publicly.
Sex comedies are supposed to be all about freedom from inhibition and the dreary dictates of good taste, but Dirty Love is secretly an unbeatable advertisement for the usefulness and necessity of shame and guilt. Watching Dirty Love I found myself turning into a Victorian prude. And I haven’t even addressed the film’s signature scene.
In a sequence no one who sees Dirty Love will forget, no matter how badly they try, Rebecca goes to the supermarket to buy maxi-pads but menstrual blood is already seeping out of her body and onto the supermarket floor in massive quantities. As the supermarket floors get bloodier and bloodier, Rebecca isn’t just in danger of embarrassing herself; she’s in danger of dying from blood loss. An old woman and Rebecca both slip and slide on all that period blood before the scene mercifully comes to an end with Rebecca smacking a clerk in the head with women’s hygiene products, and then fleeing the store in horror. In an alternate universe where Dirty Love is a Trainwreck-style star-making vehicle and not an unforgettable insult to the public’s intelligence, this sequence would be widely hailed as an unforgettable, instantly iconic set-piece, as indelible in its own way as the hairspray gag in There’s Something About Mary. Instead, it stands out for how thoroughly wrong-headed and brutally unfunny it is. As a physical comedian, McCarthy’s performances are pitched bigger than the universe, and this set-piece of the damned is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.
Dirty Love feels as much like an audition as a film. McCarthy was giving it her all to the point of dignity-shredding humiliation. She was slipping and sliding in period blood and making all manner of crazy faces while still managing to look exactly like our culture’s conception of traditional female sexiness. She looked imploringly to us for validation and we as a culture looked nervously down at the floor and mumbled, “Thank you very much, Mrs. McCarthy, we won’t be needing to see anything further from you, ever, and encourage you to perhaps find a line of work you are more suited for.” Little did we know that the line of work she thought she’d be better suited for would be expert on autism/vaccinations.
Dirty Love was supposed to launch McCarthy’s career as both a leading lady and a screenwriter, about a decade after she peaked in popularity. Instead, Dirty Love, which died at the box office but scored big at the Golden Raspberries, ended McCarthy’s film career about 90 minutes of screen time after it began. But something positive came of this debacle. The hilarious gents of the bad movie podcast The Flop House were so mortified by the film that it inspired them to start a podcast hilariously dissecting the dregs of cinema. So Dirty Love indirectly helped make the world a funnier, more joyful place, in an entirely accidental way.
Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success: Fiasco