“You know, if people don’t get this, it’s gonna backfire so hard”
The Dirties holds a special place in my heart. Not only is it filled with numerous parodies of films that I love and encompasses several references to famous scenes, it also is an example of the joys of independent filmmaking. Writer and director Matthew Johnson shot the film on a minuscule budget with barely a script but ending up making a story that felt very real and very charming for anyone who knows anything about movies. I also found the humor particularly appealing because I enjoyed Matthew Johnson’s brand of self-deprecating humor that’s mixed with witty remarks about any number of films that he’ll quickly reference on the spot. This altogether makes The Dirties one of the standout examples for anyone considering making their movies on their own or for those that love movies that are about other movies.
Although the story explores the ideas around bullying and to an extent, shootings in high schools, The Dirties is more about the friendship between two people who simply love movies. Such a dynamic is only so strong as the actors who play them and thankfully the chemistry between the two characters was matched perfectly to make the story interesting to follow. Matthew Johnson shows further talent as he stars in the film as an alter ego of himself and plays best friends to Owen (played by Owen Williams), who have a great on-screen presence and are one of the best aspects I enjoyed from the film.
When I read that both actors spent a lot of time working on what they thought the characters were motivated by and how they should interact with each other, I wasn’t surprised. What was most impressive was that this all came from the dialogue between them which was mostly improvised and relied on their skills of bouncing lines off one another; in turn, creating reactions that were pertinent and that felt genuine.
It’s evident that even though Matthew Johnson was playing a version of himself, his character has several traits which aren’t too far from the truth of who he is, which adds to the believability of his performance. The biggest being his love of movies and references to the films he admires because boy is The Dirties a gem for those that enjoy throwbacks and parodies of famous films like Pulp Fiction and The Dark Knight. I’ve watched this film a few times and I’m still picking up different references that are thrown in but that are subtle enough that I’d only realized they were there long after the film was finished.
These scenes also work because they not only serve a purpose of moving the story along and fit within the scope of the narrative but also because they’re very charismatic. This stems from the affection being put in by the characters that will often try to recreate famous scenes from well-known movies that I was already a fan of. By virtue of watching these characters that love the same movies as I do, I was cleverly put in a position to relate to them immediately and is why The Dirties holds a special place for me. It’s also one of the reasons I attribute as to why this film has become sort of a cult hit with anyone who loves movies because this is literally a film about those same people just placed in differing circumstances. Regardless of your experiences with bullying, The Dirties is about being able to create the things that you love and to do so with a friend who loves them just as much as you.
To conclude this review, I want to also add that from a visual angle, The Dirties is portrayed in a surprisingly realistic way. Often the characters will interact with people in real life who aren’t in on the act and don’t realize that they are being secretly filmed, which together provides for some great reactions and adds to the realism of the film. Technically this might make for some shaky camera moments, as most of the footage is taken from a handheld perspective from a hidden vantage point, but I didn’t mind this because it didn’t necessarily detract from the experience overall and I was more engrossed with what was happening with the story.
Matthew Johnson clearly has a vision, where he hopes to take the story so it meets intended beats, but he isn’t afraid of being open to the unexpected and using a mockumentary like format to allow him to do so. The minuscule budget of the film might have limited what he was able to film, but Matthew Johnson flipped this to use whatever he could get on camera to help form his vision and showed his skills in being malleable enough to make it still work regardless if it wasn’t what he anticipated.
For these reasons, I see The Dirties as a great lesson for those wanting to make their first film. There are numerous examples of Matthew Johnson setting up certain beats to continue the story but still used improvised moments and twisted them to take the film in the desired direction. This to me shows the power planning and passion can have to help know how to roll with the hits of something unexpected and still continue on with the original intention behind them. There are even takeaways for those wanting to learn more about using parody law to utilize music from famous scenes of movies, which normally you might have thought you could only do so if you had paid the expensive rights to do so in the first place.
The Dirties isn’t flawless as I might be hinting at with the glowing positives that I’ve highlighted the film, but the reasons for this are mainly due to the constricted budget for which I’m willing to overlook. The ending does leave a feeling of wanting but it isn’t hugely detrimental, and I can understand wholly why they chose to finish it for that matter.
Watch this film if you’re interested in seeing an upcoming writer and director or if you simply love references to pop culture or famous films because if that’s the case, The Dirties will be for you. See it.