Friday, March 18, 2016

#2,041. Polyester (1981)

Directed By: John Waters

Starring: Divine, Tab Hunter, Edith Massey

Tag line: "It'll Blow Your Nose!"

Trivia: The Love Theme that plays at a key scene in this movie was performed by actor / comedian Bill Murray

Ah, Odorama; that wonderful throwback to the days of William Castle and cheesy gimmicks (in spirit, at least, seeing as I’m not sure Castle ever actually used Odorama). Give audience members a scratch ‘n’ sniff card and they, too, can experience the same odors, however pleasant or foul they might be, as the movie’s characters. And with John Waters at the helm, you can imagine what sort of smells awaited those who paid good money to see 1981’s Polyester, a spoof of ‘50s melodramas with a dash of the gross-out humor that made its director an underground sensation.

Poor Francine Fishpaw (Divine). Her middle-class life is in turmoil. Her husband Elmer (David Samson), who owns and operates an adult movie theater, is cheating on her, and the couple’s two kids are an absolute mess. Their daughter Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) has been knocked up by her loser boyfriend Bo-Bo (Stiv Bators), and son Dexter (Ken King) is a glue-sniffing outlaw with a foot fetish. To top it off, her mother, La Rue (Joni Ruth White), is a money-grubbing shrew who steals cash from Francine’s purse, then tosses insults at her. With the help of her best friend Cuddles (Edith Massey), Francine tracks down Elmer one evening and catches him in bed with his secretary Sandra (Mink Stole). Francine asks for a divorce, but the realization that her marriage is caput ultimately pushes her over the edge, turning her into a raging alcoholic. Then, out of the blue, she meets Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), a handsome professional who drives a sports car. In no time at all, Francine and Todd are making plans for the future. But is their love the real deal, or yet another wrong turn on the bumpy road that is Francine Fishpaw’s life?

The Odorama process is explained in the opening scene of Polyester by Dr. Quackenshaw (Rick Breitenfeld). It’s simple, really: when a number flashes on the bottom of the screen, scratch the corresponding number on the card you received and sniff away. It’s good for a joke or two (one number appears moments after Elmer farts in bed), but most of the humor in Polyester stems from its exaggerated characters and the outlandish predicaments they find themselves in. While out on a date with Lu-Lu, Bo-Bo, playing a game of sorts, hangs out of a car window and swats a gospel singer (Jean Hill) on the ass with a broom (enraged, the singer hijacks a city bus and gives chase). Not to be outdone, Dexter sneaks up on unsuspecting women and, for a sexual thrill, stomps on their feet (the media has dubbed him the “Baltimore Foot Stomper”). Divine is his usual flamboyant self as the oft-suffering Francine, who spends most of the movie crying about her life, and Tab Hunter is as close to a “regular” leading man as you’ll ever see in a John Waters film (the actor plays the part well enough). And, of course, Edith Massey is on-hand, delivering what might be the worst performance of her career as Cuddles (and believe me, that's saying something).

Clearly influenced by the movies of Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession), Polyester explores such hot-button topics as abortion, adultery, drugs, and sexual deviancy, yet does so in the over-the-top fashion we’ve come to expect from its director (Lu-Lu, at one point, admits to Francine that the boys at school pay her good money to dance on tables). Though nowhere near as disturbing as Pink Flamingos, Polyester does, like most John Waters films, stretch the boundaries of good taste, and gets a lot of laughs in the process.

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