Polyester (1981)

polyester poster 1981 movie john waters
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 3/10
Visuals: 7/10

More polished than previous films

More polished doesn't always mean more fun

Movie Info

Movie Name: Polyester

Studio: New Line Cinema

Genre(s): Comedy

Release Date(s): May 29, 1981

MPAA Rating: R

polyester divine edith massey cuddle kovinsky

Driven to drink…Francine Fishpaw’s life is crumbling!

Francine Fishpaw (Divine) is discovering that her life is falling apart.  Her husband XXX theater owner Elmer (David Samson) is having an affair with his secretary Sandra (Mink Stole) while her daughter Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) is knocked up by her delinquent boyfriend Bo-Bo (Stiv Bators) and her son Dexter (Ken King) secret foot fetish and drug addiction has led him to become the notorious Baltimore foot stomper.  Francine’s own mother La Rue (Joni Ruth White) is disgusted by her, and Francine’s only escape is her loyal cleaning-woman turned millionaire friend Cuddle Kovinsky (Edith Massey).  When sharp-nosed Francine meets a man named Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), it seems like dreams could come true…but dreams can quickly turn into nightmares.

Written and directed by John Waters, Polyester is a melodrama comedy.  The film received mostly positive reviews upon its release and was considered Waters first mainstream film.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #995).

polyester husband david samson mink stole

Her husband…unfaithful!!!

John Waters is an acquired taste.  His early works were intentionally tasteless to make acquiring him even tougher.  Polyester marks a change in Waters and some might see it as selling out, but Polyester does still have that Waters crass touch with a little more style and heart.

To get Polyester, the style of film has to be understood.  It is kind of a variation on the “woman in danger” type movie melodramas and based upon the works of Douglas Sirk.  Normally a perfect world crashes down upon a character and the character has to claw and scratch their way to restoring life to what it was before it changed.  Here, Divine’s world is already pretty rotten whether she knows it or not, but even the hope provided by Tab Hunter’s character is a false hope and all just part of the destruction.  The movie ends on the potentially up note of everyone being exposed, but you also get the impression that Divine’s life will continuously return to ruins like a bad soap opera.

Part of the reason to watch John Waters is the acting or lack thereof.  I will say that since her earlier films, Divine has improved her acting skill (or at least appears to be trying more).  Part of the John Waters method seems to be to not try to act so then you can’t be blamed for bad acting.  It still gives the impression (minus the inclusion of veteran actor Tab Hunter) of a group of friends or at least people having fun making a movie.  I still love the queen of the bad acting Edith Massey and find all her scenes incredibly watchable.

polyester divine tab hunter

Could Todd Tomorrow be Francine’s only hope? Or something worse!?!

The movie also shows signs of a bigger budget than a lot of earlier Waters films.  There are genuine sets, bigger shots, and even some minuscule special effects.  It is a far cry from the shot on a borrowed camera view of the earlier movies.  In a way it loses a bit of the touch which helped make his movies what they were.  Waters does dive back into his classic low-budget roots by using a gimmick based Odorama which mimics works like William Castle to give viewers a full experience of what Francine is smelling.

Polyester is still a John Waters movie and still has that general John Waters “let’s have fun” appeal.  I feel like there is a little non-committal in the film that the earlier movies had.  Waters seems to be toeing the line a bit on bad-taste in Polyester but he doesn’t completely cross it like earlier films…which you could see as a good or bad thing depending on your view of him as a director.  I for one would prefer John Waters all in on bad taste if I’m watching a Waters movie.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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