I’m not one for early mornings, but I was finally able to get out of bed around 5:30 AM to watch the highly-anticipated film adaptation of the Motley Crue memoir The Dirt. In hindsight, I should have requested a press screener from Netflix, but sometimes life and never-ending to-do lists distract you from thinking logically.
Twenty minutes after finishing the movie, my groggy mind was struggling to figure out what exactly was wrong with The Dirt. Something just didn’t feel right once the 108-minute biopic came to a tidy close. But then just as life had previously distracted me, it woke me right up in the form of a phone call from my mother to let me know my brother was going back to rehab for a second time. That’s when I realized why I was so uncomfortable with the sudden clean ending: A significant time jump at the end of the film that flashed to the band’s final tour glossed over a lot of the pain and recovery that we know that each Crue member experienced. As Andy Greene points out in a story on Rolling Stone‘s website, “The nine years between 1996 and 2005 isn’t some amorphous blob of time.” Getting clean is far from pretty, much less a quick process that’s tied up with a pretty bow. There are hard consequences for the behavior that is being lionized in the movie, but those consequences don’t get much air time.
Of course, considering the film’s source material is well over 400 pages long, it’s understandable that not everything was going to make it into a film version: Greene also points out that the reunion with Vince Neil was oversimplified, for example. Also, somehow Pamela Anderson Lee was eliminated from the story, despite the fact that she married Tommy Lee, made an infamous sex tape with him, and — oh yeah — was the target of his violent behavior: he spent six months in prison for assaulting her. She also accused him of giving her Hepatitis C. All of this makes me wonder if adapting The Dirt into a mini-series would’ve been a better choice. More time may have allowed the film to come to terms with the Crue’s debauchery and each band member’s path out of their personal hells.
More time definitely would have helped craft some sort of narrative to come to terms with the Crue’s treatment of women, beyond Lee and Pamela Anderson’s relationship. Much has been made in the press in the leadup to the release of The Dirt about various illicit and questionable one-night-stands and whether this film even makes sense in the era of #MeToo. It’s an understandable reaction, but like the book, the film version of The Dirt isn’t so much a nostalgic glory trip as a what-not-to-do guide. If anything, people need to be reminded of the awful behavior that was once tolerated and in some cases still is. Confronting these uncomfortable issues is the only way things are going to change. In the new issue of Rolling Stone, Tommy Lee tells Kory Grow about his behavior during the era depicted in the movie: “That’s not me now, but that s— was me then, every damn day.”
Colson Baker, aka rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who played Lee in the film, was nervous about how the film would be received, so he asked a female co-star on another film (Birdbox) about the first scene in the script, depicting Lee having sex with a “groupie.” As he told Rolling Stone‘s Grow, “She thought it was cool that everything was consensual and that there was a fun aspect for both parties — at least that’s what’s in the movie.” Unsurprisingly, accusations that the band were often involved in some instances of nonconsensual sex — like a story about Nikki Sixx tricking a woman into believing she was having sex with him, when she was actually having sex with Lee — aren’t addressed either. A story about nonconsensual sex actually was in the book The Dirt. Sixx later said of the story’s inclusion in the book, “I have no clue why it’s in there…I was outta my head [while being interviewed for the book] and it’s possibly greatly embellished or [I] made it up. Those words were irresponsible on my part. I am sorry.”
One thing that can’t be taken away from The Dirt is the performances from its stars, particularly Douglas Booth as Nikki Sixx and Daniel Webber as Vince Neil, who both carried the film’s dramatic weight. Director Jeff Tremaine may have omitted a significant chunk of the dark times of the band but did cover some of the Crue’s most tragic moments including Neil’s drunk driving crash that killed Hanoi Rocks’ Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley, the death of Neil’s daughter, Skylar, and Sixx’s infamously being brought back to life after a heroin overdose. Baker more than captured the manic energy of Tommy Lee, and Iwan Rheon’s turn as Mick Mars brought some surprising levity to the film (Game Of Thrones fans may recognize Rheon as the guy who played Ramsay Bolton).
If you’re hoping the film version of The Dirt was going to be the definitive rock biopic, you might come away a bit disappointed. Like many people coming back from the brink, more time is needed to truly give their stories justice. And in the case of many film adaptations, the book really is better. More importantly, it does no service to the audience by not looking honestly at the consequences of the stereotypical sex, drugs and debauchery.
Erica Banas is rock/classic rock news blogger that loves the smell of old vinyl in the morning.