John Waters' "Female Trouble," a pastel-hued piece of soul-searing sensationalism

City Paper

A cradle to the grave absurdist character study of one rebel's ceaseless quest for fame and a pastel-hued piece of soul-searing sensationalism that's as hilarious as it is utterly terrifying, "Female Trouble" is perhaps best understood as the murder ballad of bad girl Dawn Davenport (played by Divine).

When we first meet Dawn, she's talking tough about what'll happen if her parents don't get her cha cha heels for Christmas. In the next scene, she nearly gets into a fight with a priss who rats her out for eating a meatball sandwich in class. Then, she makes good on that introductory promise, losing her shit at her folks and toppling her mother under a fake plastic tree, like a Toho kaiju upending a skyscraper.

After that, Dawn runs away, gets knocked up by an ugly man (also played by Divine) who makes Bobcat Goldthwaite look like Tom Hardy and turns to a life of crime, negligent parenting, and garbage glam. "I'm a thief and a shit kicker," she says, "and I want to be famous." Donald (David Lochary) and Donna Dasher (Mary Vivian Pearce), an eccentric married couple somewhere between Andy Warhol and Swan from "Phantom of The Paradise," oblige Dawn in this pursuit, using her as a guinea pig art project and Dawn becomes a Batman villain's approximation of stardom: addicted to drug-like beauty products and transformed into a scarred monster.

Dawn's story is buttressed by such persistently ridiculous touches as to feel otherworldly. Dawn's husband Gator is a straight hairdresser whose Aunt Ida wishes he was gay, who laments that "the world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life." Mink Stole plays Taffy, Dawn's daughter, who exhibits the same rebellious streak her mother lives by, only instead of smoking and committing petty crimes she threatens to run away with the Krishnas to piss off her matriarch. And there's plenty of trademark gross-out moments to act as disgusting commas along the course of the film's run-on sentence love letter to living the trash life: Taffy's unsightly conception by the side of the road while Dawn steals her baby daddy's wallet mid-coitus; and Dawn giving birth on a sickly sofa, severing the umbilical cord with her own teeth.

By the end of the film, Divine's brilliant performance as the terminally misanthropic bad girl is seared into one's consciousness and the most powerful element of her story is the film's maxim that "crime is beauty." There's something undeniably appealing about living on your own terms and though the film presents those terms in murder, bad parenting, and glamorizing self destruction, it's clear Dawn's attitude and self certitude is why the film has lasted so long with nary an expiration date in sight. Any Instagram account or Tumblr page with a subtitled screencap of the film's climax will reinforce Divine's potency as a queer icon that gives this film legs longer than its button-pushing, shit-starting absurdity. (Dominic Griffin)

"Female Trouble," directed by John Waters, screens at the Parkway Theatre on May 12 at 7 p.m., May 13 at 4:30 p.m., and May 18 at 7 p.m.

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