Traditionally, women exist in the cinematic cesspool of the “Dirty-verse” for the sole purpose of nagging, fucking, or repulsing men. But have we entered a new era of dirty, women-led movies? Annie Fell investigates.
The defining cinematic phenomenon of the 21st century is, perhaps, the creation of “the Dirty-verse.” Coined by Tom Scharpling of The Best Show, the Dirty-verse refers to the technically-unrelated-but-still-essentially-the-same raunchy comedies with “dirty” or “bad” in the name; the totems of the genre are Dirty Grandpa, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, and the proto-Dirty-verse Bad Santa franchise. Their success has resulted in a steady stream of nearly identical raunchy movies that seem to be produced not by production companies, but maybe through binary fission (a quick search of “bad” on Hulu yields a slew of fake-sounding titles like Bad Grandmas and Bad Roomies). The Dirty-verse encapsulates the kind of edgelord humor that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with boobs and farts and Jägerbombs—Family Guy-core, if you will.
Dirty-verse movies tend to have an extreme dude-bro bent, and basically all of the tentpoles of the genre star straight white men. For the most part, women only exist in the Dirty-verse to nag men or fuck them or gross them out by being Unfuckable. However, there have been a couple of notable exceptions: 2011’s Cameron Diaz vehicle Bad Teacher and the Mila Kunis-Kathryn Hahn-Kristen Bell franchise Bad Moms. Considering that they technically pass the Bechdel test, they might as well be Jeanne Dielman compared to anything starring Billy Bob Thornton. But still, they both follow the basic premise of, “Isn’t it wild that these women aren’t sated by their women jobs?” Per John Semley in the Globe and Mail, “The moms in Bad Moms aren’t actually bad moms (distant, emotionally or physically abusive, and so on). They just let off steam by indulging adolescent fantasies of unhinged house parties.”
There’s nothing offensively bad or dirty about these women—for the most part, they just say “fuck” and “shit” a stupid amount and talk openly about sex. (Really the only truly offensive thing I saw was the atrocities of hair and makeup committed against Kathryn Hahn.) The Bad Moms franchise is written and directed by men, as was Bad Teacher. It says a lot about Jon Lucas and Scott Moore––and the essence of the Dirty-verse as a whole––that the raunchiest thing they think a woman could do is not be totally fulfilled by motherhood.
The closest anyone has come to breaking the Dirty-verse’s glass ceiling is Kay Cannon with her criminally underrated 2018 movie Blockers. Though its place in the -verse might not be obvious at first, Blockers’ implicitly dirty name—its poster featured the silhouette of a rooster above the title—gives the impression that it’s at least Dirty-verse adjacent. Even if not explicitly denoted, any movie in which John Cena butt-chugs a forty seems dumb as hell and like it deserves to waste away with the dregs of the Dirty-verse, ne’er to be added to a Netflix queue.
Sure, it is an uber-mainstream raunchy comedy that focuses, in part, on a group of parents (Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz) trying to stop their daughters from losing their virginities on prom night, but the movie’s mission is to prove how corny and patriarchal that trope is. The girls want to lose their virginities for different reasons—one for love, one to get it over with, and one to hide the fact that she’s gay. Their sex pact is less integral to the plot than their friendship, and the boys they plan to have sex with even less so. The movie culminates with each of them getting what they want: Julie (Kathryn Newton) loses her virginity to her boyfriend; Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) sort-of loses her virginity via cunnilingus—which, for a mainstream sex comedy, is much more radical than it should be; and Sam (Gideon Adlon) doesn’t lose her virginity, but she does come out to her dad, her friends, and her crush, Angelica. It’s rare to see women, especially teen girls, have sex then ultimately triumph in mainstream film and TV (and maybe even rarer to see a teenage coming out story that isn’t sappy or sad, but just a classic rom-com got-the-girl climax). There’s no moralizing; Blockers is raunch for raunch’s sake. It’s a prime example of what is possible within the Dirty-verse.
But Blockers potentially breaking barriers in the Dirty-verse also prompts the question: can something genuinely feminist exist within an often aggressively misogynistic context? I deeply believe that getting to feel comforted by stupid movies is an inalienable human right, and that’s basically impossible if your personhood isn’t represented in them, but big-budget feminism will always feel inauthentic to me on some level.
Something about the Dirty-verse in its most traditional form feels horribly outdated, even if it’s only a little over a decade old. It’s not fun to watch straight white guys be bad and dirty in celluloid when they are already bad and dirty enough in everyday life. (Nota bene: they always have been, but now that they aren’t completely monopolizing mainstream film and TV, why would we choose to watch them?) Now, anyone other than the gatekeepers of the Dirty-verse (white cis-het dudes) probably have a better shot at keeping the genre alive, because our marginalization still allows us the ability to subvert and scandalize in a non-edgelord way. We can make fun of ourselves and it’s not inherently “punching down”—we’re just talking about our own lived experiences. I don’t know if movies in the Dirty-verse canon inherently have to be thoughtless; maybe Blockers belongs to a new, evolved era of Dirty cinema. If that’s the case, I don’t mind letting straight men keep the Dirty-verse proper—they’ve earned it.