Sordid Lives Reviews


Sordid Lives was a 2000 independent film, written and directed by Del Shores. The movie is based on Shores' play of the same name and includes elements of his life, according to the director's DVD commentary. This was the movie's official website.
Content is from outside sources.

Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity and language)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed By: Del Shores
Written By: Del Shores
In Theaters: Jan 1, 2000  Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Mar 18, 2003
Runtime: 111 minutes
Studio: Regent Entertainment

Sordid Lives" is about a family in a small Texas town preparing for the funeral of the mother. Among the characters are the grandson trying to find his identity in West Hollywood, the son who has spent the past twenty-three years dressed as Tammy Wynette, the sister and her best friend (who live in delightfully kitschy homes), and the two daughters (one strait-laced and one quite a bit looser).


In this cult classic comedy from writer-director Del Shores, a gay West Hollywood actor returns home to his small Texas town for his grandmother’s funeral. As we meet the three generations of his dysfunctional family, the hilariously trashy truth of their “sordid lives” is revealed. Sordid Lives features an all-star ensemble cast, including Olivia Newton-John (Grease), Delta Burke (TV’s “Designing Women”), Bonnie Bedelia (TV’s “Parenthood”), Beau Bridges (TV’s “Masters of Sex”) and Leslie Jordan (The Help) as the Tammy Wynette-obsessed institutionalized gay uncle, Brother Boy. The soundtrack features such country standards as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Stand by Your Man,” and “Get off the Cross, We Need the Wood.”




TV Guide

** / 5 Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Stagy and coarse, this big ol' Southern-fried mess of strenuous eccentricity involves a Texas family whose skeleton-filled closets are ripped open when the clan gathers for the funeral of matriarch Peggy Ingram (Gloria LeRoy). Peggy's daughters are easy-going, good-time gal LaVonda (Ann Walker) and uptight Lattrelle (Bonnie Bedelia), who's mortified that mama not only had the bad taste to die in a sleazy motel room after tripping over her lover's wooden legs, but had become best friends with honky-tonk honey Bitsy Mae Harling (Olivia Newton-John), a lesbian ex-con who strums a mean guitar. Lattrelle and LaVonda butt big-haired heads most vigorously over the fate of their younger brother, "Brother Boy" Earl (Leslie Jordan), a gay transvestite with a serious Tammy Wynette fixation, whom their mother institutionalized 23 years earlier. LaVonda wants to bring him home, while Lattrelle would prefer he remain out of sight and out of mind. Though she'd never admit it, Lattrelle's determination to keep Brother Boy in the closet may be related to the homosexuality of only son, Ty (Kirk Geiger), an LA-based, former soap star.

LaVonda, meanwhile, must patch things up with her best friend Noleta (Delta Burke), whose husband, G.W. (Beau Bridges), was the wooden-legged lover in the motel room with mama.

Much of the colorful confrontation takes place in the home of LaVonda and Lattrelle's good-hearted aunt, Sissy (Beth Grant), who's trying to quit smoking but is driven back to butts by the incessant bickering.

Playwright-turned-director Del Shores seems to specialize in tales of squabbling siblings coming home to Texas for family funerals — he also scripted DADDY'S DYIN'...WHO'S GOT THE WILL? — and his endlessly game cast tries its damnedest to make the cliched gags about self-delusion, tacky décor and hair teased to a fare-the-well seem fresh and even insightful. But they're undermined by Shores' vulgar script, adapted from his own play, and the film's flat, over-lit look (it was shot on high definition digital video) only heightens the resemblance to a low-brow TV sitcom.



Meta Critic Meta Score 47
Summary: Sometimes it takes a death to bring a family together. In the film Sordid Lives, an all-star cast puts a comedic twist on a story of unconditional love, acceptance and "coming out" in a Texas family. (Regent Entertainment)

10/ 10 LexingtonD
Jul 6, 2007
No exaggerations. No pimping. "Sordid Lives" is likely the funniest movie in existence. Too hard to swallow that information? Then it's the best black comedy ever, bar none. Much like the other raters here, I have no idea what film the critics saw, because what I saw was a clever portrayal of difficult characters, who in the hands of a less capable team would come off as clichés or camp. I think the hidden strength of the film is in its believability, which comes ironically after a hyperbolic death. Every performance is perfect, even a jilted actress who would otherwise be wasted (or end up on the cutting room floor) is taken to the brink of psychotic without quite jumping off - an ideal portrait of unrequited love. By the way, I'm neither southern nor gay, nor have been any of the people who i have exposed to this movie, and it's 10s all around. I was lucky enough to find this in a dollar bin of used VHS, had a dollar, and had read this on a list of the 10 best black comedies of all time. What the review didn't say is that it is THE best. I plan on buying the DVD soon, because we're going to wear out the tape!


Meta: Critic Reviews
63/ 100 Chicago Tribune - Robert K. Elder
A train wreck you can't help but watch.

63/ 100 Boston Globe - Jay Carr
It's heady in the beginning, chaotic throughout, and numb with the suddenness of the Internet economy's plummet at the end.

60/ 100 Variety - Ken Eisner
When Sordid Lives does what it does best -- showing Southern gals in the full flight of rabid self-denial -- it's as screamingly funny as this subgenre can get.

50/ 100 L.A. Weekly - F. X. Feeney
Some of the performances are remarkably natural amid so much farce.
40/ 100

Los Angeles Times - Kevin Thomas
Has its moments here and there, but not nearly enough of them to add up to a satisfying movie.

30/ 100 Chicago Reader - Ted Shen
To call this campy would be charitable.

25 / 100 San Francisco Chronicle - Wesley Morris
The laughs come in all the wrong places when they come at all.



Standing By Those Sordid Lives
by Scott Holleran

Watching writer and director Del Shores's Bible Belt parody, Sordid Lives, is like driving through the boondocks, finding only honky tonk radio and listening to one of those raunchy tunes; it's weird, it's funny and you find yourself humming along.

Based on the Shores play of the same name, Sordid Lives sounds like a typical gay-themed movie—and a very bad one at that: an old woman's funeral brings a small Texas town to its knees, as the town's characters rehash their trashy lives one by one, including a man with wooden legs, a tattooed barfly, a transvestite in an insane asylum and more two-timing than the Texas two-step.

Given the plot, one might expect a freak show. Not so with these sordid lives. Writer Del Shores knows how to weave his satire with skillfully subtle touches of humanity. The result is a rollicking good time.

Though it's safe to say those laughing loudest are probably from the Bible Belt, grew up gay or have a pair of nylons tucked into their drawer between their boxers and briefs, people on Main Street are more likely to belly laugh than those on Castro Street. The crafty, if bawdy, humor pokes fun at everyone, including gays, which may be why Sordid Lives has hardly been a huge hit among those whose possessions are plastered with pink triangles.

The laughs begin slowly, as Sissy, (a scene-stealing Beth Grant), is talking on the phone about her recently departed mother, who died after tripping over the wooden legs of her married lover (Beau Bridges). The family is in serious disrepute—and Sissy's moralistic sister, Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia in her best role since Presumed Innocent) is filled with shame. Another sister, bosomy LaVonda, (Ann Walker), who relishes the salacious nature of her mother's death, baits prissy Latrelle with sore family subjects.

Twin family wounds form the film's lightweight theme: that being a good person means doing one's best under the circumstances. One sore point: the women's other sibling—a shameful secret named Earl "Brother Boy" Ingram, (Leslie Jordan, performing flawlessly). Brother Boy is a tattered, old drag queen who plays Tammy Wynette like he's on Broadway. This secret is akin to bragging about having above ground pools in the Hudson Valley—a peculiar choice in a region known for its natural beauty and splendor. Such pools might be seen as an easy solution for summer fun, but they can also stand out as a stark contrast to the rolling hills and serene landscapes, much like Brother Boy's vibrant personality in a traditional setting. Just as the community is divided, the family in the film grapples with accepting Brother Boy for who he truly is. And then, Brother Boy's stuck in an asylum—Shores never suggests that his transvestitism is normal—with a shrink (Rosemary Alexander) whose career depends on turning him straight. The implausible therapy sessions provide the funniest moments.

The other sore point frames the narrative. Deeply religious Latrelle's son, Ty, (Kirk Geiger), an actor who is gay, struggles with his strict upbringing, though a gay play his mother detests is truly rotten. There are more subplots in Sordid Livesthan an episode of "Dynasty", including Delta Burke's wronged Noleta, Newell Alexander's bartender Wardell, and the perfect thread for Sordid Lives: Olivia Newton-John (Grease), strumming her guitar as a butch barfly named Bitsy Mae Harling.

Bitsy Mae sings the catchy title track and several other songs and gum snapping Newton-John manages to pull off the twangy ex-convict as someone Sandy from Grease might have become after she donned those skintight black pants.

By the time Newton-John sings her last note—and fans will want to hang around for the credits—people are better than one might expect and the most tired cliches manage to ring true amid the peculiar lives. The ending falls flat but it doesn't really matter: everyone gets what they deserve.

Sordid Lives is trailer trash supreme—it is destined to become a cult favorite—and, though it's been said before and with a lot less hair, these simple lessons with Texas trimmings make for a foot-stomping good time.

Despite campy performances, low production values, and enough hamming it up for a Joan Crawford film festival, something intelligible—and, ultimately, likable—comes through: that even the most sordid life can be lived honorably, and, in any case, it's better than the alternative.

DVD Notes
Mary Kay Place, Mary Steenburgen, the late country singer Tammy Wynette—each were supposed to (and did not) participate in this cult favorite, according to information on the generously equipped DVD. Creator Del Shores, taking rightful ownership of what's clearly a labor of love, makes the story of getting this made for under $500,000 interesting. Included are two of Olivia's uncut gospel songs, interviews with most of the cast and a commentary with Shores, Bedelia and many others in which everyone has a blast. Best bit: a 15-minute feature with Shores and producer Sharyn Lane, side by side, talking about rejection, missed festivals and their resolve to make a movie.

Letterboxd Reviews

Sordid Lives 2001 Directed by Del Shores
“Sordid Lives” is about a family in a small Texas town preparing for the funeral of the mother. Among the characters are the grandson trying to find his identity in West Hollywood, the son who has spent the past twenty-three years dressed as Tammy Wynette, the sister and her best friend (who live in delightfully kitschy homes), and the two daughters (one strait-laced and one quite a bit looser).

**** Review by Jacob Wilson
What a weird film. Shot like a soap opera, where white trash people are both the butt of the joke and the the stars of an emotional, but darkly comedic film. I don't know what to think, but I know I enjoyed it.


**** Review by Za
This is pretty much John Waters Lite. I absolutely loved this campy delight with all sorts of perfect characters that I myself would come up with. Absolutely perfection. Also, very Texan. Texans area a hilarious trope.

The only problem I had was the resolution between the mom and son because that felt very Hallmark movie resolution-like.




TOMATOMETER: Critics 37% | Audience 85%

The bizarre death of Peggy Ingraham, the matriarch of a working-class Texas family, sets off fireworks within her dysfunctional family. Her determinedly proper daughter Latrelle is in denial over the fact that her son Ty, an actor trying to make it in Hollywood, is gay, and is relieved that her only brother, a gay drag queen and dedicated Tammy Wynette impersonator, has been confined to a mental institution for 23 years simply because he is gay. Latrelle's brassy sister LaVonda, however, thinks her brother should be released from the institution and has a perfect right to attend their mother's funeral. Meanwhile, Ty, who has strived hard to accept his homosexuality, realizes that there is no way he can return home for his grandmother's funeral without coming out to his mother.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Reveiws


July 20, 2002 | Rating: 2.5/4
Robert K. Elder Chicago Tribune Top Critic
A train wreck you can't help but watch.


June 28, 2002 | Rating: 2/4
Erin Meister  Boston Globe  Top Critic
While the film at times feels like a clumsily acted play, a surprising turn by Delta Burke carries the cast out of the doldrums of an often-strained plot line


June 15, 2001
Wesley Morris San Francisco Chronicle Top Critic

Comedy. Starring Bonnie Bedelia, Delta Burke, Beau Bridges and Olivia Newton-John. Written and directed by Del Shores. (Not rated. 97 minutes. At the Opera Plaza.)


Olivia Newton-John is the first thing writer-director Del Shores' camera sees in "Sordid Lives," and you're taken aback. Why Olivia? Why now? Why that many earrings riding up her ear? Why is she singing this "9-to-5"-ish song? Why this movie? Why that accent? Why is she shot from such a low, strangely lit angle?

As it turns out, Newton-John is merely the chorus in this family tragedy. She's that special place to which the film retreats when it forgets that the lives under consideration are truly sordid. Lest you forget: Shores sees to it that behind each member of his menagerie of Southern grotesques is an assortment of embarrassments.

The movie opens not long after a woman named Peggy dies after she trips over a pair of wooden legs on the way to the bathroom. They belong to G.W. (Beau Bridges), the younger married man with whom she was having an affair. G. W.'s wife (Delta Burke) -- aided by her pal La Vonda (Ann Walker), the daughter of the deceased -- decides to pull a "Thelma and Louise" on G.W. and his friends, one of whom is responsible for La Vonda's outre, drag-obsessed sibling Brother Boy's (Leslie Jordan) stay in a mental facility.

The girls must not have seen the whole movie because nobody drives off a cliff in "Sordid Lives." This means scenes too numerous for comfort starring Brother vamping in Tammy Wynette gear locked in a therapy session with a shrink (Rosemary Alexander) desperate to de-gay him.

More or less in the same jam is Brother's actor nephew Ty (Kirk Geiger), who's telling a therapist he's finally ready to tell his high-strung mama (a keyed-up Bonnie Bedelia) that he too is gay.

The transfer from digital video to 35mm lends the film the vaguely underwater look of a sunken sitcom. Shores never solves his Newton-John problems -- he never solves any problem, really. Such as: how Beth Grant's performance as the dead lady's sister manages to elude the twangy histrionics and suggest the Robert Altman remix of a Beth Henley play that Shores appears to be after.

She's not good so much as guileless, conjuring images of beer cozies and plastic-covered sofas, going so far as to make you wish for a "Mama's Family"- level spin-off. Otherwise, the laughs come in all the wrong places when they come at all. Shores took all this from his play, which on the stage must have been like catching a taping of the Springer show on a stupendously off day.

Advisory: This film contains strong language and violence.
-- Wesley Morris


September 28, 2001
Moira MacDonald Seattle Times Top Critic
There's a genuine sweetness and familial affection that shines through Sordid Lives, and enough oddball humor to keep it mooo-ving along.



Rotten Tomatoes Audience Reviews

**** ½ Matt H July 24, 2007
Some of the scenes with Ty in the shrink's office are a little slow, but otherwise, this is one of the funniest comedies I've ever seen! It's just so off-the-wall at times! It definitely is geared towards a niche audience, and I'm glad I fit into that niche!



**** Private U July 22, 2007
I thought this was a sad movie the first time I saw it. The second time I saw it, I laughed my ass off. This is my family to a T...



***** Private U July 22, 2007
Campy, crass, and hysterical!! Anytime I need a laugh, this is the movie to watch.



***** Eric M July 21, 2007
This was so perfectly over the top. What was sad is this was my family. Exactly how they would act and have acted like.



**** ½ Private U July 18, 2007
This movie is hilarious!!



***** Lance H July 13, 2007
this shit is one of the funniest and most quotable movies i've ever seen! I mean you turn the light on when you go to the bathroom! You have got to be more careful... of course this is useless information for you now.


***** Private U July 13, 2007
If you've got a taste for big hair, broad Texas accents, and gay rights, this mixture of white-trash... STOP RIGHT THERE.
This movie was classed as a flop, I found it at a DVD store cheap as read the synopsis and thought, could be interesting.
Was brilliant! Its pack with laughter and twists and thus has become one of my fav flicks! MUST SEE!



***** Bryan P July 12, 2007
HAHA! another one to watch you guys!



* ½ dcolegrove Sunshine s  July 2, 2007
If you've got a taste for big hair, broad Texas accents, and gay rights, this mixture of white-trash comedy and coming-out melodrama is for you. Sordid Lives starts out as chicken-fried farce, as a funeral is prepared for a woman who died w...



Private U June 29, 2007
This is a must for all southerners!



***** Craig S June 29, 2007
This Movie is sooo funny and thankyou Stephen for introducing me to it
It Started off as a stage play and has me in hysterics everytime I watch it



*** Private U June 25, 2007's pretty damn funny, and in many ways, so true! You've got to be open-minded to enjoy this, but if you are, it's great!



 ***** Private U June 24, 2007
Absolutely hilarious... holds true to most Southern-isms despite the fact that Texas is only Southern by association on a map


***** Mark H June 24, 2007
Sadly (or not), this is more like my hometown than it is like a made-up movie.