First of all, if you are not familiar with the rock mantra of sex, drugs, and rock n’roll, you will not enjoy this film or the book. The Dirt is an autobiographical novel that depicts Motley Crue’s rise to fame. This includes the good, the bad, and the criminal. Exploiting women in videos, groupie sex parties, excessive drugs, excessive everything were unfortunate side effects of sudden and immense celebrity. Keep in mind The Dirt never once sets out to justify any actions or make excuses for the highly questionable behavior of the band, nor does it need to. Told through each member’s point of view, The Dirt does not sugar coat anything. It is the truth as remembered by Nicki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, and Mick Mars. They speak their truth and let the readers know that what they are reading is a confession.
The world has changed significantly since Motley Crue emerged onto the Hollywood music scene in the 1980s. Hedonistic behavior that was highly condemned was somehow still socially acceptable. In 2019, a lot of that would not fly today and with good reason. Yet, the heyday of Motley Crue is an era of lots of hairspray, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, decorative pentagrams that have nothing to do with Satanism, and Tawney Kitaen reaching legendary status by being a human hood ornament.
This is not the world we know now. This is where the movie strays from the book and probably for the better. While there is still a great deal of sex and drugs, a lot of the misogynistic behavior is dialed down from an eleven to a six. This is definitely a wise choice considering that a lot of the chapters in the novel serve as cautionary tales to young women about embarking on the groupie path.
Directed by Jeff Tremaine, the Netflix adaptation thrives by capturing the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle. Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) kills it as the Mick Mars I envisioned from the novel. Both deadpan and not someone to mess with, Rheon portrays a man trying to live his rock dream while suffering from a debilitating disease. Special shout out to Tony Cavalero who plays a brilliant Ozzy Osbourne and pulls off one of the most outrageous and memorable scenes from the novel.
The film starts off strong bouncing from unreliable narrator to unreliable narrator and then tapers off. Part of The Dirt’s charm is the multiple narrators calling each other out as they comment on or correct each other’s stories.
When I first read The Dirt in 2001 I was put off by the treatment of women, but I pressed on. What I loved most about the book was the underdog story. And I felt inspired. It conveys a story of trying desperately to reach the ultimate rock and roll dream. The band expresses their passion, fears, and insecurities, and the struggles against giving up until they reach stardom. The film glosses over the struggle and the Crue seem to be an overnight success. All in all, to quote another 80’s band Poison, the film is nothin’ but a good time and it should be viewed as such.