Rumours of new John Waters film ‘pure speculation’

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By Sarah BregelFeatures correspondent

Getty Images John Waters (Credit: Getty Images)Getty Images

John Waters (Credit: Getty Images)

Reports of the director’s long-awaited return to the screen, for a film based on his novel Liarmouth, ran rampant on Wednesday. Is there any truth to the speculation?

John Waters’ work may not be done. The eccentric director best known for 1970s and 1980s films that were once considered underground, like Pink Flamingos, Cry Baby and Hairspray, very well might be directing a new film. At least, that’s what the internet has been saying.

On Wednesday, an article from World of Reel falsely asserted the film – including its casting and location – had been confirmed. The Guardian (since removed), Vogue, and other outlets quickly picked up the story. However, the auteur himself has now released a statement and it seems fans and critics alike were overly eager for a new Waters film after 20 years away. His last film, A Dirty Shame, was released in 2004.

“While I am thrilled and excited at the idea of Aubrey Plaza starring in my new movie Liarmouth, the announcement that the film is ready to go in Baltimore, which was printed in an article in World of Reel and then the Guardian, is pure speculation,” Waters said in a statement to the Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, Maryland, is the eclectic city where many of Waters’ films like Hairspray, Serial Mom and Cry Baby have taken place, and, along with San Francisco, one of the places the director considers home.

“Neither writer talked to me or anyone officially involved in developing this movie. We have no start date or green light to begin production but are working to, hopefully, make that happen.”

Baltimore residents would be “off the charts” excited if a Liarmouth movie panned out – Benn Ray

People Magazine celebrity and culture writer Angela Andalaro understands how such a mix-up might happen. She tells BBC Culture that once the internet starts buzzing, rumours can spread easily, “then, in the rush to be the first up someone cuts the corner of waiting for a response from a rep”. She continues, “Because at that point, everybody’s talking about it, so the risk of being one of the wrong is less than missing the moment on the chance it’s right.”

The film being speculated about is an adaptation of the director’s own 2022 novel, Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance. The New York Times described the novel as a “tangled ribbon of manic events,” and says the work delivers “crotch punching, exploding televisions, geysers of blood, deviants, wackos and reprobates”. The central character, Marsha Sprinkle, who was said to be played by Aubrey Plaza, is a thief and scammer, who “dogs and children hate” and whose “own family wants her dead,” according to the book’s description. A “delirious road trip of riotous revenge” ensues, in which the lead, who constantly lies, will have to tell the truth.

The speculation about Aubrey Plaza as the potential film’s lead makes sense. The actor told John Waters she would do “anything” to land the role when she interviewed the director at a San Francisco City Arts and Lecture event in May 2023. Plaza herself feels she was made for the part, which is why she fought hard for it. She told DazedDigital that she emailed Waters as soon as she heard the novel would be adapted onscreen and said, “you better let me audition for you. I even look like the girl on the cover” of the book. Plaza, a diehard fan of Waters’ work, told him at the lecture event that his film Serial Mom changed her life  “I saw that movie when I was a teenager,” she told the director. “And up until that point, did not realise that people were making interesting, good, funny independent films.” In boundary-pushing fashion, another character in the film may very well be a talking member. Waters has repeatedly quipped he may voice the appendage himself. 

Getty Images A collection of John Waters movie posters (Credit: Getty Images)Getty Images

A collection of John Waters movie posters (Credit: Getty Images)

In the Maryland city where Waters is considered a cultural icon, his presence is felt even decades after he last released a film set here. There are still flowers and colourful decorations frequently left on the Baltimore grave of Glenn Milstead, known to fans as the legendary drag queen and actor Divine, who played Tracy Turnblad’s mother in Hairspray and a criminal living under the name Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos. Plastic pink flamingos stuck in resident’s lawns and in their Christmas wreaths feel like signs that Waters’ mark will always remain on the city.

Benn Ray, owner of Waters’ favourite Baltimore bookshop, Atomic Books, where Waters also holds signings, tells BBC Culture that Baltimore residents would be “off the charts” excited if a Liarmouth movie panned out. “This is something everyone in Baltimore has been hoping and rooting for for years,” he said. After the rumour took off, Ray’s partner (“in life and business”) Rachel Whang, told BBC Culture she emailed Waters personally and received confirmation back that a film has not been confirmed.

While Baltimore residents are fond of John Waters, and hoping for a long-awaited return to filmmaking there, Waters loves the city right back. “It’s the most mixed,” he told The Guardian in 2014. “Nobody cares what I do. They know who I am but I can do anything. I can be a voyeur still. I can go out and watch people.” And he does. When Waters is in town he is spotted at local bars, and riding on the city’s light rail – seeming to fully embrace the accepting vibe of the city he helped establish.

Waters didn’t just change Baltimore, though. Nearly 50 years ago, Waters put drag queens in his films. He also took a bold stand against segregation and racism, and featured interracial couples. He set movies in trailer parks and row houses and earned the nickname “the pope of trash” by fellow writer and artist William Burroughs. And while it seemed like for a while, Hollywood wanted to write him off, they couldn’t for long. His movies started earning more than just a cult following, but popularity and even a Hollywood star on the Walk of Fame.

Fans seemingly can’t wait for another film from the eccentric filmmaker – in fact, they want one so badly, they made it up.

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