Thursday, September 27, 2012

Well, It's Better Than 'Pecker': "Female Trouble" (1974)

John Waters and Divine follow up their gross out hit "Pink Flamingos" with a tamer, and better, film.

If you are unfamiliar with a John Waters film, then the following plot summary is going to make absolutely no sense. The film is essentially a biopic of the fictional Dawn Davenport (Divine). She is a large, troubled 1960 high school girl whose life of crime springs from the absence of cha-cha heels under the Christmas tree. She attacks her parents for not getting her the gift she wants, runs away, and hooks up with the repulsive Earl Peterson (also Divine). Dawn ends up pregnant, and gives birth to daughter Taffy after Earl rejects her.

From 1961 to 1967, Dawn makes ends meet working as a waitress, go-go dancer, a hooker, and finally turns to a life of robbery and muggings. She falls in love with famous hairdresser Gator (Michael Potter) or Gater, according to the end credits, and they marry (in one of the film's most outrageous scenes). By the mid-70's, the two have come to hate each other.

Donald (David Lochary) and Donna (Mary Vivian Pearce), the beauty salon owners, decide to use Dawn in an art experiment. They want to photograph her committing various criminal acts, capturing her true beauty. Gator leaves Dawn for Detroit, and Gator's angry aunt Ida (Edith Massey) throws acid in Dawn's face, scarring her. Soon, Dawn's life of crime and entertainment grows, and her fourteen year old daughter Taffy (a very funny Mink Stole) goes looking for her father, which launches a series of murders.

While "Female Trouble" is not as shocking as "Pink Flamingos," I do think it is better (slightly). The obtuse dialogue is still here, but Divine seems to be making an actual attempt to turn in a performance (as both Dawn and Earl). Waters gets his point across- as a country we turn mass murderers into celebrities, a point still evident today. In the director's commentary, he correctly compares a death sentence to winning an Oscar, a person cannot receive a more ultimate reward for attaining the pinnacle of their profession- whether it be acting or killing.

Divine does do some wicked things, but nothing compared to her snack at the end of "Pink Flamingos." Waters uses a larger cast to good effect, and his camera angles seem better planned. Divine is good, and the rest of the cast do their Waters-best, but Mink Stole (a grown woman playing a teenager) gets the best lines and is hilarious. Her murder is both horrifying and slapstick-funny. The acid makeup on Divine's face is rarely believable, but you quickly forget that after Divine's change from put-upon housewife to a Mohawked makeup monster performing her nightclub routine (which is rather tame up until she opens fire on her audience).

"Female Trouble" was re-released and somehow garnered an NC-17 rating. Between this and "The Dreamers," male nudity is still the final frontier the MPAA has no interest in exploring. This is blatant sexism. A woman can be shown in a full frontal nude scene and the film can garner an R or even a PG13, but when a male does frontal nudity, it's R or worse.

In the John Waters canon, "Female Trouble" fits squarely in the middle, it is certainly better than "Pecker" but cannot touch "Cry-Baby." If you are a Waters fan, you could probably add a star to my rating, I do recommend his director's commentary, it is great. (* * *) out of five stars.