kes’s review published on Letterboxd:
I watched this right after Dogville, which is ironic in a way; they are both bleak and misanthropic films that depict the ugliness and violence of middle America. Obviously, they are drastically different in their approach, but I think this aspect is unique enough to validate comparison. They came out within five or so years of each other (and, incidentally, both feature Chloe Sevigny), but Dogville was generally liked by critics while this was reviled.
20ish years later, however, it's clear which one will stand the test of time. Dogville wears its philosophical criticism of America on its sleeve, depicting its characters in a world that could never be interpreted as anything other than an allegorical setting. Gummo, on the other hand, is almost so true to life in the USA's "deep middle," so to speak, that much of it could be documentary, and in fact, about a quarter of it is unscripted.
The candid moments, like that showing a group of white Americans caught shamelessly admitting to disliking "n*****s", immediately expose the deep-rooted ugliness this film is getting at. Moments like this become universal in their specificity, and it's a specificity that is only achieved through Korine's ability to step back and let the truth be captured.
I'm sure Gummo is difficult for many Americans to watch because it can't be written off as anti-American like such a film as Dogville. It's too attached to reality. And for me, it is a breath of fresh air to see the USA depicted in this way, because the truth is that so much of the country is ugly-- not just ideologically, but aesthetically.
And it's incredibly important that those of us who live here but have the privilege to not see this ugliness in our everyday lives understand that we are not detached or separate from it but perched on leaves on plants whose roots dig deep down into the earth; roots that Korine has unceremoniously dug up and thrust in our faces.