Monday, December 21, 2015

Polyester (1981)

John Waters' first mainstream film is a clever if uneven satire of early '80s suburbia, filtered through the style and conventions of '50s melodramas by directors like Douglas Sirk, about much put-upon housewife Francine Fishpaw (Divine) whose life falls apart around her in a series of comically over-the-top circumstances. POLYESTER is very much a mid-point film for the director, coming as it does between his underground features and later, more polished films. Despite its place as Waters' first mainstream effort, it keeps one foot firmly planted in the outrageous, "shock value" sensibilities of his earlier work, and therefore has more in common with his most recent films (especially A DIRTY SHAME) which strike that same balance, rather than the two films that immediately proceeded it (the nostalgic HAIRSPRAY and CRY-BABY).

The satire is greatly aided by the level of production value afforded by the higher budget, with the skillfully-executed lighting and set design doing an excellent job of visually referencing the films that served as Waters' model here. Divine gives a fine performance, taking his usual characterization in a new direction here, and Tab Hunter (an inspired bit of casting) clearly has a lot of fun playing a caricature of his '50s heartthrob persona. The rest of the cast is made up largely of Waters' regular stock company, including Edith Massey and Mink Stole, as well as punk rocker Stiv Bators as a neighborhood delinquent.

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