Pecker is a 1998 American comedy-drama film written and directed by John Waters. Like all Waters' films, it was filmed and set in Baltimore; this film was set in the Hampden neighborhood.
The film, starring Edward Furlong, examines the rise to fame and potential fortune of a budding photographer. Co-starring Christina Ricci, Lili Taylor, Mary Kay Place, Martha Plimpton, Brendan Sexton III, and Bess Armstrong, the film received mixed reviews from critics and was a commercial failure, grossing over $2 million from a $6 million budget.
Set in a Baltimore neighborhood known for having the thickest local accent, Pecker tells the story of an unassuming 18-year-old who works in a sandwich shop and takes photos of his loving but peculiar family and friends on the side. Pecker, so named for his childhood habit of "pecking" at his food, stumbles into fame when his work is "discovered" by a savvy New York art dealer, Rorey Wheeler. Pecker's pictures, taken with a cheap Canon Canonet 28, are grainy, out-of-focus studies of unglamorous subjects, but they strike a chord with New York art collectors.
Unfortunately, instant over-exposure has its downside. Rorey's efforts to turn Pecker into an art sensation threaten to ruin the low-key lifestyle that was his inspiration. He abandons his trusty old rangefinder camera for a new, full-featured Nikon N50. Pecker finds that his best friend, Matt, can't shoplift anymore now that Pecker's photographs have increased his profile. Shelley, Pecker's obsessive girlfriend who runs a laundromat, seems especially distressed when the press dub her a "stain goddess" and mistake her good-natured "pin-up" poses for pornographic come-ons.
When his family is dubbed "culturally challenged" by an overzealous critic, they begin to feel the uncomfortable glare of stardom. Pecker's mother (Mary Kay Place) is no longer free to dispense fashion tips to the homeless clientele at her thrift shop. Pecker's grandmother, Memama, endures public ridicule when her experience with a talking statue of the Virgin Mary is exposed on the cover of a national art magazine. Tina, Pecker's fag hag older sister, is fired from her job emceeing go-go dancing at a gay bar because Pecker's edgy photographs chronicle the sex practices of the club's patrons. Even Little Chrissy, his six-year-old sister, feels the pressure of celebrity when her eating disorder is exposed, bringing unwanted attention from nosy child welfare agencies (she's mistakenly diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and prescribed Ritalin.)
After Pecker's new-found fame disrupts the lives of his family and friends, Pecker turns the tables on the art world by refusing to participate in a scheduled show at the Whitney Museum of Art. Instead, he forces New York art collectors to come to Baltimore to see his latest photographs, which portray the same people who disparaged his family in an unflattering light (one photo shows Patricia Hearst adjusting her breasts in a mirror).
Pecker is then asked what he plans to do next. He replies that he would like to direct a film.
Critical reaction to Pecker was mixed, but tended toward the positive. It holds a 52% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 44 reviews. It holds a 66 out of 100 based on 24 reviews on Metacritic. Describing it as "John Waters' first stab at making a mainstream movie," Edvins Beitiks' review in The San Francisco Examiner said it "starts out well and winds up no worse than most of the stuff that comes out of Hollywood". In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert noted a "tension between the gentler new Waters and his anarchic past. In the scenes in the male strip bar, for example, we keep waiting for Waters to break loose and shock us, and he never does, except with a few awkward language choices. The miraculous statue of Mary could have provided comic possibilities, but doesn't." Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Pecker is "never truly funny, but it's an amusing novelty, gaining strength from smart characterizations and sly cogency about the way people are exploited under the limelight of celebrity."
The soundtrack was released on September 22, 1998 by New Line Records.
- "Happy-Go-Lucky Me" – Paul Evans
- "The Love Chase" – Stewart Copeland
- "I'm a Nut" – Leroy Pullins
- "Memama" – Stewart Copeland
- "Uh! Oh! (Part 1)" – The Nutty Squirrels
- "Straight Boys" – Vicky Randle and Stewart Copeland
- "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" – Billy Williams
- "In the Mood" – Henhouse Five Plus Too (Ray Stevens)
- "Back to Hampden/Sneaky Shelly" – Stewart Copeland
- "Baltimore, You're Home to Me" – Dave Hardin
- "Thrift Shop Fashion Shoot" – Stewart Copeland
- "Don't Drop the Soap (For Anyone Else But Me)" – Stan Ridgway and Stewart Copeland
- "New York Montage" – Stewart Copeland
- "Swamp Thing" – The Grid
- "Woo-Hoo" – The Rock-A-Teens