Mary Vivian Pearce
1 Hr., 35 Mins.
Female Trouble acts as one of the many defining moments of his career. It's the follow-up to the infamous Pink Flamingos, which, if you haven’t heard already, features his forever wonderful muse Divine picking up dog poop and ingesting it as if it were a piece of candy for the cameras. Most would expect him to attempt to go even further with Female Trouble, to make a film not matching the depravity of the former by, instead, outdoing it.
But Waters, unlike many exploitation filmmakers of the 1970s, is not the kind to dwell on the past. The film acts as a mature step forward in his then-young filmography, less concerned with shocking us (though still pretty damn concerned) and more with drawing a coherent storyline and penetrating our funny bones with inexplicably unorthodox laughs.
America’s favorite drag queen, the glorious Divine, stars as Dawn Davenport, a perpetual bad girl whose life is, more or less, a soap opera on acid. Sticking alongside her from her sticky teenage years to her violent demise, the film follows Dawn’s crime-ridden existence like a journalist in desperate need of a profile, unflinching of all the sordid details of her everyday life. She is a tragic heroine Bette Davis could never have played, hitting her emotionally stunted daughter (Mink Stole) when not committing the rest of her time to robbery, wreaking havoc upon the public when not rigorously sinning.
Female Trouble makes for an early example of John Waters’ satirical eye toward media explosion following violent crime, a topic later to be perfected in his underrated Serial Mom. But Female Trouble is better looked at as an uproarious black comedy, not as a social statement, and it leaves its biggest impressions when looking at its own absurdity straight in the eye, like when Divine partakes in a sex scene with … himself (trick photography can do wonders with dual roles) or how the raucous Edith Massey berates Dawn’s first husband, her nephew, for being a boring heterosexual — she’d rather have gay man in her life; they’re much more fun to spend time with.
Yet I like Female Trouble most when it’s lost in its own flurry of madness, hardly worried about narrative and more focused on its visual gags (my favorite being Massey’s wearing of a slinky gown someone with the body of Cassandra Peterson could only pull off). Waters has made finer films, but with Divine by his side, you know you’re getting something special. B
November 11, 2015
he thing I like best about the films of John Waters is how free they feel. They’re unafraid to push boundaries, unafraid to fail, unafraid to gun down convention and get away with it. You can picture Waters, penciled-on mustache and all, smiling wickedly as he goes from scene to scene devising just how he can make the audience squirm, laugh, or gasp. If he’s lucky, maybe he’ll even get a reaction combining all three, the audience making an ungodly noise perhaps more invigorating than anyone would like to admit.