A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The hero of John Waters' “Pecker” got his nickname as a kid, we are told, by pecking at his food. Uh, huh. And guys named Studs had fathers in the tuxedo business. Pecker (Edward Furlong) works in a Baltimore sandwich shop and takes photos of the seamy side of life. He has an exhibit in the restaurant, a famous New York art dealer (Lili Taylor) happens to see it, and she mounts a show of his work in her gallery.
Of course all Manhattan is soon agog at the young genius, providing Waters with easy targets in the world of modern art. “Pecker's like a humane Diane Arbus,” one critic gushes, when in fact he's more like just plain Diane Arbus. But “Pecker” isn't really about art so much as about the way that fame and fortune upset Pecker's little world.
There is a strong streak of domesticity in Waters' plots (even the characters in “Pink Flamingos” have home lives, although you might need to leave the room if I described them). Pecker's dad (Mark Joy) operates a failing bar. His mom (Mary Kay Place) runs a thrift shop and sells the homeless “a complete Easter outfit” for 25 cents. (Pecker assures one of her potential customers that a winter coat is “flameproof--in case someone tries to set you on fire.”) His sister Tina (Martha Plimpton) is the emcee in a male go-go bar, issuing dire warnings against such misbehavior as “tea-bagging.” His grandmother (Jean Schertler) has a stand in front of the house to sell something called “pit beef,” and has a Virgin Mary statue that talks uncannily like one of Conan O'Brien's speaking TV pictures. And there is a kid sister named Little Crissy (Lauren Huilsey) who stuffs candy into her mouth as if she only feeds on payday; she continues the Waters tradition of at least one addictive character in every movie.
Pecker is the most normal member of the family, I'd say. His girlfriend Shelley (Christina Ricci) runs a laundromat, is an expert on stains, and sometimes slightly unzips the top of her jumper so Pecker can snap off a few quick shots. His best friend, Matt (Brendan Sexton III) is a compulsive shoplifter who poses while committing crimes and suffers the most from Pecker's fame; he complains, “If I can't shoplift, I don't want to be an artist!” Waters follows these characters through their 15 minutes of fame without ever churning up very much interest in them. One problem is that Furlong's performance doesn't project much heat or charisma, while the girlfriend played by Ricci seems constantly to be dampening her own. A simple casting switch, making Ricci the photographer and Furlong the boyfriend, might have improved the movie considerably.