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Female Trouble (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 25, 2014

All that delinquent teenager Dawn Davenport (Divine) wants for Xmas is a pair of cha-cha heels.  When she opens her presents and finds a weak substitute, she goes berserk on her parents and leaves home.  Hitchhiking, she gets picked up by Earl Peterson (also Divine), who wastes no time impregnating her.  14 years later, Dawn has given up the straight life for a career of petty crime with her friends Concetta (Cookie Mueller) and Chicklette (Susan Marsh).  She abuses her daughter Taffy (Mink Stole), who has a fondness for staging fatal car accidents in the living room.  Dawn is accepted as a client at an exclusive salon and marries her hairdresser Gater (Michael Potter), against the wishes of Gater’s aunt Ida (Edith Massey), who would prefer it if he were gay.  The marriage quickly turns sour as Gater sleeps around and likes to molest Dawn with tools.  Gater’s employers, Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce), find beauty in crime and want to use Divine for fashion photo shoots.  She divorces Gater and gets him fired, but Ida takes revenge with a vial of acid in Dawn’s face.

And that’s just the first half.  Coming only two years after Pink Flamingos, John Waters shows vast improvement in filmmaking, especially when it comes to pacing.  This movie packs a lot of story into an hour and a half.  There are some saggy parts in the middle and the final act, but for the most part it stays pretty engaging without the tedium that often drags down his previous film.  Line deliveries are sharper and freer of awkward pauses, the characters and scenarios are actually compelling instead of being a support system for a series of gross-out scenes.

Part of the credit must go to Divine, who takes more of a central role here.  She’s present in almost every scene, commanding your attention with a hilariously camp performance.  Divine really comes into her own here, and although the preceding film is much more famous, I’d say this one does a far better job of establishing her iconic stature.  And she plays a dual role to boot, in what may be the only instance of an actor/actress raping him/herself.  The supporting cast is terrific as well, with especially memorable performances by Massey (too weird to ignore, too badass to be pitied) and Stole.  The raw hostility and extreme melodrama (amped up even more in the follow-up, Desperate Living) are wickedly funny, and the dialogue is much better this time around.  There are some really delicious lines like “The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life!” (or Massey’s “No, I don’t want any goddamn eggs!”… an amusing twist on her previous role).

Yes, Waters’s style is still very rough around the edges, but you can see him stepping up his game.  The use of music — including an original theme song sung by the star — has more wit to it, the production design has more care put into it, the camera angles and movement are more professional.  But most importantly, the writing, acting and editing all come together to make a much more cohesive and entertaining film.  Waters manages to keep it trashy — the film includes murder, humiliation, kidnapping, genitalia, sex with needle-nose pliers, and mainlining “liquid eyeliner” — but still tells a wild tale of outsiders who redefine beauty on their own terms.  Lots of fun.  Rating: Very Good (82)

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