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With: Divine, Edith Massey, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole
Written by: John Waters
Directed by: John Waters
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 95
Date: 10/04/1974

Female Trouble (1974)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Big Girls Gone Awry

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"I hate you and I hate Christmas!" screeches Dawn Davenport at her hapless parents after she fails to find her beloved cha-cha heels under the brightly decorated tree on Christmas morning. And so off she goes to begin a life of crime and debauchery.

If you've experienced holidays similar to this one, you'll be thrilled to find that a refurbished, restored print of John Waters' 1975 filth classic opens at the Castro on Christmas Day and plays through New Year's Day. Even if you haven't experienced a Christmas quite so harsh, you may find Waters' twisted humor a fine antidote to the gooey Christmas fare on television.

Unlike most die-hard Waters fans, I adore his later work, from Polyester (1981) on up through last year's Cecil B. DeMented, and I can't stand the early cult classic Pink Flamingos. Female Trouble falls somewhere in the middle, with Waters still dabbling in blatant gross-out scenes but beginning to explore more interesting storytelling and filmic techniques.

Waters' frequent co-star, the blimp-sized transvestite Divine (1945-88) stars, and gives a tremendous performance as Dawn, whose entire life spins on whether or not she gets those cha-cha heels for Christmas. When she doesn't, she storms out of the house and begins hitchhiking. The first slimy guy she sees stops the car, gets out, throws her down on a dirty mattress lying on the ground, and rapes her (though technically it's not rape since both characters are played by Divine).

Pregnant, Dawn turns to robbing banks for her means of support. But once her child is born, her life becomes difficult. Her friends insist that she join a beauty salon. There she falls in love with and marries a hairdresser, whose aunt (the astonishing Edith Massey) keeps trying to fix him up with guys ("I'd be so proud if you was a fag," she says). Meanwhile, the proprietors of the beauty salon (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce) begin a photo essay starring Dawn in the act of robbing. They also get her hooked on mainlining liquid eyeliner.

Eventually Dawn's marriage breaks up and aunt Edith keeps on bugging into Dawn's life, going so far as to throw a glass of acid in her face. But the beauty salon folks believe that the scars make Dawn even more beautiful and they conceive a bizarre nightclub act, billing Dawn as "the most glamorous woman in the world." However, Dawn's grown daughter (now played by Mink Stole) has now joined the Hare-Krishnas, causing Dawn to flip out and kill her. The film ends when Dawn goes to the chair, still ranting and raving to her many fans out there.

That's just skimming the surface of this amazing rise and fall story of an American icon from Baltimore. Waters often uses mise-en-scene to tell his story -- long, sustained shots with the actors shouting tons and tons of dialogue to each other before a cut, and it's effective in capturing the brutal "reality" of this underarm of society.

But most of all, Female Trouble is funny. Sometimes you find yourself laughing at the shock value of it all, and other times you laugh because a line or a line delivery is particularly funny. These people were not the greatest of actors, but their shameless exhibitionism is funny in itself. Watching Divine jumping on a trampoline as part of her nightclub act is funny just because she's trying so darn hard.

This humor also comes from a pure, raw filmmaking energy that we simply don't see these days. Normal people should probably stay away, but twisted people and young filmmakers will find laughter, inspiration and joy here. And isn't that what the holidays are all about?

DVD Extras include a John Waters commentary track and a trailer.

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