Retrospective: Polyester - I'm Gonna Get an Abortion and I Can't WAIT!

It seems that my previous claims about Waters' stepping out of suburban Baltimore (without Divine) have all been addressed in his next feature, the 1981 satire, Polyester. This is undeniably a more mainstream move for the director, being his biggest budget feature, costing $300,000 to make (all financed by New Line) and also being the first to gain an R rating. Most of Waters' regulars feature (although mostly reduced to smaller supporting roles) including the return of Divine, alongside new recruit, former teen heartthrob, Tab Hunter. Polyester also presented the gimmicky "odorama" which was essentially a scratch and sniff card that the audience were required to scratch at various points throughout the film, experiencing such scents as new car smell, roses and skunk spray.

Polyester follows Francine Fishpaw (Divine), a bored housewife, mother to two rebellious and odd children and wife to her adulterous porno-theatre owning husband. Francine's life comes crashing down after she leaves her husband, left to cope alone with her children's outrageous behavior, she soon descends into alcoholism. However, with the support of her best friend, eccentric debutante, Cuddles Kovinsky (Edith Massey) and a new man in her life, Tod Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) things start looking up.

Once again, at the heart of this film is another stunning performance from Divine, the perfect balance between serious and convincing emotional heart, and trashy over the top madness. Francine may not be as gutsy as the heroine's in Waters' previous features but she is certainly loveable and from the onset we are on her side. The character of the bored housewife has been given the Waters' treatment and been fully boozed up. The sequences where Francine wanders around her house, a drunken mess are some of the most entertaining in the film.

Waters' satirical eye is clearly set upon the women's films of the 1950s and 1960s - the tales of bored domestic Goddesses distracted by a young handsome stud that promises them a life of luxury excitement. This twisted parallel makes the casting of gay former teen heartthrob, Tab Hunter, slightly ironic and gives a little wink to the viewers aware of this. Given the success of Liz Renay's performance in Desperate Living it proves to be a good move casting Hunter, who shines in the role of Tod. The Waters' regulars, Mink Stole and Mary Vivian Pearce are relegated to smaller roles, with only Edith Massey and Divine receiving billing. Massey, in her last Waters' role, is once again on scene stealing form as the utterly adorable Cuddles, the only solid part of Francine's life.

Polyester exposes the facade of suburban life by showing us a traditional family, each with twisted secrets or problems: from Francine's daughter rebellious behavior to her son's twisted foot stomping fetish. Waters' also tackles religion and abortion- we see two Nuns forceably take Francine's daughter away and a cameo from Desperate Living's Jean Hill as a gospel singer who hijacks a bus after being spanked by a broomstick.

The humour feels far more tame and clean than Water's prior features and the dialogue does not have the same quotability of them. It evidently works as it was both a financial and critical success, but those perverts like myself who like Waters' trashier work may be left slightly lacking.

Polyester is a large move to the mainstream from Waters' and the humour and traditional style feel slightly lacking due to this. Albeit slightly more forgettable than his other features, it is still solid, camp entertainment with a captivating lead performance from Divine and wonderful supporting turns from Edith Massey and Tab Hunter.

Next up is Hairspray (1988)

For the previous parts of the retrospective see: Desperate Living, Female Trouble & Pink Flamingos

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