Polyester (1981):

Life in John Waters' films entails an appreciation for the scent of roses and the stink of shit, a mix of high and lowbrow -- the blur pops up in a throwaway gag late into the game, a tacky drive-in marquee shilling a trio of Marguerite Duras flicks. Still, the main style is, despite the cheeky mag-glossiness, less visual than olfactory, with harassed hausfrau-heroine Francine Fishpaw (Divine) literally sniffing out one heartbreak after another in her suburban household: hubby David Samson is a smut-theater managing loudmouth romping with cornrowed secretary Mink Stole, sluttish go-go daughter Mary Garlington can't wait to get an abortion, while glue-snorking son Ken King turns out to be the notorious Baltimore Stomper, combat boots crushing passerby toes. Support comes from her maid-turned-debutant pal, Cuddles (Edith Massey, snaggle-toothed speech further mangled with casually dropped French), but Francine's middle-class hell doesn't shift from desperate boozing to frilly-dreamy montage until she runs into bronzed gigolo Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter, doing fearless self-parody) at a gory car wreck. Even then, however, her nostrils rarely remain unscathed, air-freshener and convertible-leather alongside farting and skunks, each smell given full schlock-kitsch treatment with numbers flashing on screen corners for the scratch 'n' sniff "Odorama" cards. The gimmick is fond William Castle shoutout, though Waters' model here is another '50s staple, the Sirk melodramas where bourgeois "normalcy" cloaked spiritual entombment -- a broader if no less angry satirist, Waters can't help but dote over the clan's transgressions, so that the kids' third-act rehabilitation are inevitably drenched in derisive blandness. The picture is slaphappy semi-mainstream farce, wedged literally between Desperate Living and Hairspray, yet with nuns forcing unwed pregnant women into a storm-set hayride, Jean Hill hijacking a bus and biting into tires and, above all, Divine in one of his/her starriest roles, not so much Joan Crawford parody as personal Joan Crawford interpretation or, perhaps, Anna Magnani interpretation. With Joni Ruth White, Stiv Bators, and Mary Vivian Pearce.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home