Thursday, July 19, 2012

Polyester (1981)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

Ok so full disclosure here: Even though I consider myself a person who really likes John Waters, I haven't actually seen any of his earlier "trash" films, the ones that earned him his reputation for weird, trashy indie comedies that usually featured Divine. The earliest film of his that I'd seen was Hairspray. I know, I know, but to be fair it's mostly because I'm super squeamish and the things I've heard about Pink Flamingos gross me out. Polyester sounded like something I should try though. It stars Divine as Francine Fishpaw, a mild-mannered housewife whose life goes off the rails when she catches her asshole husband cheating, her party-loving daughter gets pregnant, and her foot fetishist son is arrested for attacking women on the street. She sinks into an alcoholic depression and searches for a way to get her family back on track.

With varying levels of domestic parody and a heavy dose of melodrama, Polyester is funny and weird in that distinctive John Waters way. Divine's self-aware, exaggerated performance is gripping- a comedic distortion of the 50s housewife archetype. She is surrounded by various non-actors and Waters mainstays, collectively amping up the camp factor to its breaking point. The seedy underbelly of suburbia is met with the invention of ODORAMA, which is basically just what it sounds like. Viewers were meant to unleash special scratch-and-sniff cards at certain points in the film, taking advantage of Francine's strong sense of smell used throughout the story. It's a goofy gimmick made goofier on home video when you can't even participate, but I can imagine it would have been really fun in a theater environment.

Though I thought the dialogue and performances were hilarious, the pacing in this movie is god-awful. That might be intentional, as Waters fiddles around with audience expectations of normality in filmmaking, but I have a hard time dealing with bad pacing in anything. It dragged and meandered and generally took a while to get where it wanted to go, but I liked enough of it to mostly forgive that. Plus it's got a theme song, one of my favorite things! Written by goddess Debbie Harry and sung by someone from Grease 2!


Pair This Movie With: I was definitely in the mood to watch Serial Mom, since that is another Waters depiction of a suburban housewife struggling to maintain a certain standard of domestic excellence. But it's got way more homicide (though Polyester has some too).

PS A nice bit of trivia is that my favorite song by The Avalanches totally samples dialogue from this film, so now I have context when I listen to it!