Undoubtedly the film is quite bizarre but it's awfully funny & you find yourself cracking up with the most unlikely scenes.
The film features at first Odorama which audiences are given a card with 10 numbers on them & when the number appears on screen you must scratch & sniff it accordingly. It creates a lot of fun with the audience & adds to the film dramatically.
With nothing in disguise, Polyester immediately clarifies to viewers its existence as being a satirical look at suburban life. With the main character being a mother attempting to structure her family like a 1950's sitcom in a society rampant with youth violencem, pornography and crude language as social norms. By comparing the contemporary timeframe to the facade of a 50's one, John Waters forced viewers to confront how times have changed with a relentless passion for dark comedy. The style and tone of the film is so brilliantly executed that the viewer can easily fail to recognize the fact that it is a very low-budget production with little in terms of narrative, and so as a result it is truly one of John Waters' finest films.
Polyester is a brilliant combination between over-the-top drama and dark comedy. The story is a melodrama full of comedic characters, and with John Waters' tenacious passion for the material he is easily able to let the material push the limits.
Though the story is confined to a small set of locations and the overall resolution quality is not the most high-definition, Polyester's screenplay and direction is so intelligent that it gets around it well. The story never really goes anywhere, but that's because it keeps coming back to the same plot point of Francine Fishpaw's endless suffering at the hands of a destructive family. The importance rests on the different ways that John Waters writes this into the screenplay, and the consistent variations between plot twists and sight gags ensures a versatile range of jokes to fuel the dark comedy of the screenplay. The dark comedy is so shocking and unexpected that it still has the power to hold up today, and there is no telling precisely which gags will hit viewers with surprise or laughter since its all a matter of discovering how deep the rabbit hole of John Waters' sick and twisted mind goes.
Essentially, Polyester is a very gimmicky film. However, it doesn't mean that all of them completely work out. Though the film is a satire on the "Women's Pictures" of the 1950's and 60's, that genre is little-known today and so its satirical edge is difficult to recognize outside of people who lived through the era or studied it. And as well as that, the "Aromascope" gimmick that came with the film is obviously more difficult to come by these days unless viewers have managed to get their hands on a special version of the home media release. Luckily enough these do not stand in the way of the film's narrative from naturally working, but it's clear that it takes a cult audience to appreciate the full extent of Polyester in its complete glory. Still, that's the case with most John Waters films so there is no sense in complaining all that much about it all. Frankly, of all the niche-driven John Waters films, Polyester carries his distinctive style without being too esoteric and has an organic sense of humour which can appeal to a wider audience.
And embracing the odd tone of the film to maximum extent, the cast of Polyester help to ensure there is no shortcomings in terms of acting.
Divine's melodramatic lead charms are absolutely brilliant. Treating the entire film like a soap opera, Divine stands out amid a cast of campy actors by taking a "woe is me" approach to every single situation in the film. Divine is so deeply lost in the role that it becomes all too natural, leaving it easy for viewers to forget that the main character is actually a drag queen in real life. Francine Fishpaw is an interesting character as she is the kind that viewers can feel sorry for, but also laugh at. Divine's repetitive nature is so delightfully over the top that it actually never wears thin, but rather proves to bring consistent dark humour into Polyester. Divine is a constant source of melodrama in Polyester, and her endless descent into self-pity is a key source of the film's drama and a lot of its comedy.
David Samson is also a strong fit. Capturing a twisted satire on the typical suburban husband, David Samson pumps his character full of the antagonistic archetype of an unappreciative husband. Capturing a gritty edge to him, David Samson takes an approach where he mimics the hard-edged masculinity of male characters from countless classic films and then diverts it into a campy self-obsession. This works to create an intense sense of chemistry between him and Divine where the two just play off each other with contrasting personas, clearly establishing the exact kind of relationship shared between them in no time. David Samson balances a hard edge with campy line delivery very well in Polyester.
Mary Garlington is also very over the top in her campy nature. Capturing the free-spirited partygirl nature of Lu-Lu Fishpaw, Mary Garlinton so obsessed with maximizing her physical energy that she never seems to stop moving. She keeps dancing her way through everything even though the jukebox is never playing and she says all her lines with such an airhead nature to her that she comes off as a hilariously cheesy character. The little-known Mary Garlington brings organic energy to Polyester and works to ensure that she transcends the intentional repetition of Lu-Lu Fishpaw's consistently cheesy dance moves.
Ken King manages to capture a strongly introverted persona and make a convincing comic transition to a different attitude later into the story, and both Edith Massey and Joni Ruth White manage to join the ensemble in capturing the twisted character creations of John Waters with vibrant humourous energy.
So Polyester makes up for its simplistic plot with a brilliant satirical edge and a tone which effectively works John Waters' distinctive style of dark comedy into a fashion which is twisted and yet hilarious while also managing to get the best efforts out of Divine.
This is a sort of twisted "John Waters' Love Letter to Douglas Sirk. And it is hilarious.
Divine is "Francine Fishpaw" and she is having a seriously bad time as a devoted housewife, mother, daughter and friend. And it is all presented in "Odorama!"
Not to be missed!
Waters has said that he finds equal influence in high-brow art films and sleazy exploitation trash heaps, and "Polyester" combines the characteristics of the two with startling mastery. It ain't Bergman and it ain't Hill - instead, it's like a Joan Crawford sudser that bled internally after getting shot at a 711 but still decided to crawl to the nearest movie premiere to make an entrance with drama. The film is satire, but it's also a love letter, a stan, if you will, of the Hollywood Golden Age chick flick.
If you aren't so convinced of "Polyester"'s determination to give a sloppy kiss to the good old days of the campy melodrama, listen to this plot: overweight housewife Francine Fishpaw (Divine), who considers herself to be an atypical "good, Christian woman", is about to have a nervous breakdown: her dear husband, Elmer (David Samson), is the successful owner of a local porn theatre and an adulterer of the lowest common denominator. Her kids are maniacs: her daughter (Mary Garlington) is an aspiring go-go dancer knocked up by a hoodlum, while her son (Ken King), a glue-sniffer, is currently making media rounds as the Baltimore Foot Stomper. She has no friends, besides the asinine Cuddles (Edith Massey), and her verbally abusive mother (Joni Ruth White) makes sure to frequently stop by the house simply so she can berate her. So after her life eventually goes completely down the shitter (and I mean completely), she spirals into an alcohol-fueled depression. But after she meets Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), a corvette driving businessman, things begin to look up.
I know, I know, "Polyester" sorta kinda sounds like an extremely over-the-top drama even Bette Davis would have turned down. But this time around, drama doesn't seem like the right kind of word by way of description. Is there a right word(s) to accurately describe "Polyester"? Consider: our female lead is a poorly dressed drag queen who has no problem reminding us that she is, in fact, a man (always a running joke for Waters). Consider that Tab Hunter, yes, Tab Hunter, the Golden Boy of the 1950s teen movie, is her love interest; that her supposed BFF, portrayed by the indelibly lovable Massey, is nearly toothless; that the film, as part of a marketing stunt, came with Odorama scratch-and-sniff cards to give the viewers a realistic aromatic experience.
Nothing about "Polyester" is remotely serious, and I like it all the more for it. At first, it seems like a bunch of super messed up friends got together and decided to make a movie, but as the film continues, one realizes that Waters is actually a clever writer, and Divine is a star, especially when it comes to sniffing loudly (you've got to promote that Odorama, after all), making disgruntled moans, and being all around charismatic. Yes, "Polyester" is chintzy, but sometimes, even the trashiest of entertainment seems like some form of bizarre art. Waters loves to throw garbage at us, but he's good at it. He's a smart director and a smart writer, as good at shocking as he is causing a guffaw. And you're damn right he calls this a living.