Like Howard Stern’s Private Parts, which dared to imagine the mensch behind the King of All (Sleaze) Media, Ringmaster‘s fictionalized behind-the-scenes look at The Jerry Springer Show is an unexpectedly plaintive cri de coeur. Painting its nominal star as a defender of the poor and their right to be as publicly messy as any drug-
addicted rock star, Ringmaster is a 90-minute “Jerry’s Final Thought” pumped up with silicone implants: bawdy, saccharine, and jiggly. It’s not every day you get back-to-back lectures on stepfather-stepdaughter incest and the populist dynamics of daytime television outside graduate departments of cultural studies.
The show being the thing, Ringmaster orbits around two panels of Jerry guests, one for a segment about step-sex, the other for a bit about traitor homegirls. The white incest panel occupies most of the screen time and gets what little character development there is. Connie (an oddly credible Molly Hagan) is a hardworking, comely mom saddled with a do-nothing second husband and an overly nubile daughter (Jaime Pressly, looking appropriately trashy and inbred). After catching them in bed for what must be the umpteenth time, Connie calls “the people from Jerry” with her troubles, reacting with pathetically touching glee when she’s confirmed as a guest. In comparison, the “traitor girlfriends” bunch, being the black panel, provides Ringmaster with most of its verbal comedy but little in the way of texture besides neck rolls, extensions, and lots of shrill yelling about “my man.”
Director Neil Abramson throws his audience the necessary naughty bones but also lets quaint buds of sentiment bloom in Jerry’s unlikely hothouse, the camera lingering over hugely inflated tits as well as hugs, exchanged looks of betrayal, and schoolgirlish squeals of excitement at the prospect of 15 minutes of fame. If anything rings particularly false, it has to be Springer himself, who ghosts the edges of his own movie with a look of freaked-out surprise. Unwilling to admit that he actually enjoys what he does, Jerry mostly reacts and kvetches, providing the not so new information that deep down he really just wants to be loved and understood. Everyone wants that, but as Ringmaster proves (in admittedly the broadest of terms), it’s getting those things that’s the rub.
The just plain folks in Home Fries—down home, slightly slow, and desperate for happiness—would make great Jerry Springer Show guests if they weren’t so damned pretty.
Starring Drew Barrymore as the nicest little unwed mother-to-be you ever did meet, Home Fries begins with an accidental murder by helicopter chase (don’t ask), moves on to a “My Dead Stepfather Impregnated My Girlfriend” scenario (Luke Wilson plays the dim-witted stepson of the father of Barrymore’s baby), and ends up with another helicopter chase, as Fries‘s faux Coen brothers–ish dumb-smart flourishes and attention to backwater detail explode inexplicably into action-movie high jinks. Veering uncontrollably between black comedy (murder attempts) and feel-good fuzziness (a Lamaze class), Fries is actually much less complicated and therefore less interesting than it sounds. Tooling through the same white-trash hood as Ringmaster but with a bigger Hollywood engine, this is an unexpectedly snide and mean little movie despite its gauze wrapping. Home Fries misses its intended target of rural quirk and hits just plain dumb instead.