A singular vision of brotherly love

Nathan Lane, left, and Megan Mullally in Dicks: The Musical. Photo: A24/TNS
Nathan Lane, left, and Megan Mullally in Dicks: The Musical. Photo: A24/TNS
The makers of a film musical are ready to be hated for it, they tell Ashley Lee.

After filming the first take of All Love Is Love — the closing song of A24’s movie musical Dicks — Megan Mullally had a sinister epiphany.

"You two are going to get death threats," she told writer-stars Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp before addressing her other cast mates: "We’re all going to get death threats."

This anecdote got laughs when Bowen Yang shared it at the movie’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere, but Mullally’s tongue may have not been completely planted in cheek: At a moment of fierce partisanship in US politics and near-constant culture war battles descending from it, nothing is guaranteed to be uncontroversial.

Least of all a musical number that describes God with a gay slur.

"This is a satirical, absurdist, deeply silly, R-rated queer musical inspired by The Parent Trap," Mullally’s co-star Nathan Lane says with a laugh. "It’s not to be taken seriously, it’s all in good fun, and people certainly seem to be enjoying it so far. But I’m not sure everyone will see it that way, and when it goes into the real world, I’m very curious to see what happens."

The film’s elaborate, blasphemous ending (yes, plot spoilers follow) begins after protagonists Trevor (Jackson) and Craig (Sharp) — two aggressively straight, duelling corporate salesmen who, despite looking nothing alike, are identical twins separated at birth — reunite their estranged parents (Mullally and Lane). Upon moving in together as platonic roommates, the brothers find themselves falling in love, having sex and getting married.

What began as a 30-minute show titled "F****** Identical Twins" at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade in2014 — the F-word here being a verb as well as a common intensifier — retains the same spirit on-screen nearly a decade later, one Sharp likens to that of legendary queer film-maker and notorious pot-stirrer John Waters.

"It’s offensive and it’s gross, but it’s also campy and bombastic and absurd," he said. "None of this is real. The first joke in the movie is that they are twins, and they just aren’t. This whole thing is a f****** cartoon."

Inspired by Shakespeare’s comedies — where "every character gets married, even when they shouldn’t," said Jackson — the film, following the stage play, culminates in Trevor and Craig’s incestuous wedding, which is interrupted by a diverse coalition of protesters just as the brothers are about to exchange vows.

"A cowboy next to a nun next to a Mormon next to a Buddhist monk? That’s one of the oldest jokes in showbiz. That’s Mel Brooks," noted Sharp. "There’s even someone with a New Yorker tote bag, because liberals would be mad at this moment if it were for real. And then, the funniest way to justify this whole f****** insane psychosis is to say, ‘God has blessed this, so you can’t be offended’."

It’s at this point that Yang’s officiant reveals his true identity — God himself.

Challenged by the mob’s conservative Christian leader (played by Nick Offerman, Mullally’s real-life husband), God explains that heterosexual sex is disgusting too: "All love is gross, but all love is love."

The film-makers intended the phrase to play on the popular slogan of the marriage equality movement, pushing it to its literal extreme. "‘All love is love’ is a beautiful sentiment in the queer community, but actually, that’s not true," said Jackson. "Not every love is good. Some are bad and toxic and illegal. So after everything, these two men learn the wrong lesson — they say, we love ourselves, we love each other, incest is good — and to have that be their takeaway in this movie from this family-friendly universe is funny to us."

After God pronounces the twins legally married, telling the crowd, "God loves all of you because God is all of you. God is man and woman. God is black and white. God is straight and gay," the brothers transform God’s words into a rousing gospel tune with a subversive, repeated refrain: "All love is love, all love is love/ God is a f***** and all love is love." The lyrics even appear on-screen, as if daring the audience to sing along. And this time the F-bomb is a gay slur that’s been re-appropriated by many queer people — and it’s highlighted in bright red.

"The way it’s employed here is true frivolity," said Yang. "The irony is, it’s the people who would use that word in a hurtful way who are going to be the first people to get offended by it."

Still, the crux of the scene is its wanton provocation — and has been since Dicks: The Musical — was a stage play at UCB.

"I’ve seen a few reviewers write that we haven’t earned the right to be as dirty as we are in this movie, which is interesting, like we haven’t earned the right to say what we want to say," said Karl Saint Lucy, who co-composed the song with Marius de Vries. "We still live in a time where, to some, queer people are dirty and nasty, just by existing. So it’s tremendously important that queer people have the opportunity to take ownership of that and subvert it in the art that we make."

That doesn’t mean the team behind Dicks was cavalier about the word, though. Sharp and Jackson acknowledged that even among queer people, the F-word can provoke a complicated array of reactions.

"We never want it to feel mean-spirited," he added. "When you’re told you’re gross and weird, you’re like, ‘Well, I might as well have fun doing it’. It’s queer rebellion: Be gay, do crimes."

Of course, in order to rebel you have to be ready to upset people.

"For anyone who doesn’t think the final sequence is that funny," Sharp said, "this is a movie we made for f******, for the people who get this joke. While I think the audience is broader than that, this moment wasn’t made to offend you. It’s not that offensive. God is a f****** is a beautiful, positive statement, and if you think it’s anything but, then it’s just not for you." — TCA