Sleeping Dogs Lie

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Think of your most embarrassing secret. Now multiply the embarrassment by 10. Now recast the secret to somehow involve a dog. Do all that and you’re approaching the humiliation felt by the central character in “Stay” (renamed “Sleeping Dogs Lie” for theatrical release), a perverse and funny movie written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite.

The poor girl is named Amy (Melinda Page Hamilton), and one time when she was in college, out of boredom and curiosity and goodness knows what else, she did something sexual and naughty with a male of a different species. I know! It’s awful! But it happened, and now, several years later, she retains the shame of this secret, as well she should.

The question is whether she can ever tell anyone, and that question becomes relevant when she falls in love with John (Bryce Johnson), a handsome and perfect man whom she hopes to marry. While the two are visiting her parents — her sheltered, innocent mother (Bonita Friedericy) and her no-nonsense father (Geoff Pierson) — Amy finally reveals her secret to John. Couples in love want to be able to share EVERYTHING with each other, right? No secrets, right?

Goldthwait’s warped comic imagination takes flight at that point, and the revelation scene is just one of several squirm-inducing sequences, the sort of uncomfortable humor often mined on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Office.” My hat’s off to Melinda Page Hamilton, who carries the entire film, with all her character’s ups and downs, with charm and good humor. It must be exhausting playing a woman so oppressed by her own hilariously filthy past.

Also worthy of note is Jack Plotnick as Amy’s meth-addict brother Dougie. Comedian Brian Posehn has a memorable scene, too, as one of Dougie’s friends.

So is it funny? I think people will probably either love it or hate it. Either you think Amy’s secret is preposterously funny, or you think it’s creepy and disgusting and you won’t enjoy a movie that refers to it over and over and over again. Because make no mistake: This is a one-joke movie. Imagine if “There’s Something About Mary” had been centered around the hair-gel scene, instead of just including that as one comic element. “Stay” has its one outrageous idea, and it keeps coming back to it for laughs for 90 minutes.

About 60 minutes into the film, there is an abrupt change in tone, when things suddenly become serious for a while. Now, I admire Goldthwaite for trying to give his deliriously filthy movie some thematic weight, to have it be more than just a mindless sex comedy, but I don’t think he handles the shift very well. It’s an awkward fit, and not in the amusing way that other things in the film are awkward.

But then again, the fact that someone made this movie at all intrigues me. Here’s bestiality, the last taboo on the frontier, being played for laughs, and being used as a metaphor for openness in relationships. Not that I necessarily want to see more comedies on this specific subject, and certainly this one could have been shot and edited better (it looks like a student film), but let’s be honest: The premise alone is more interesting than 90 percent of what comes out of Hollywood. I’m willing to give Goldthwaite a pass for taking such an idea and not totally screwing the pooch with it.

B- (1 hr., 30 min.; R, some strong sexuality, a lot of vulgar dialogue and deviant sexual dialogue, a lot of harsh profanity.)

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