Had it been made by anyone other than John Waters, Polyester would have been considered lewd and perverse. However, because it was directed by Waters, it weighs in as one of the director’s “cleanest” films.
Polyester follows the story of a mother named Francine (played by the always amazing Divine, appearing here with less makeup than usual) whose family crumbles around her. Her adulterous husband owns and operates an X-rated theater, her daughter is a high-energy nymphomaniac, and her son is whacked out from constantly huffing household cleaning products. Her only friend is the inheritance-wealthy Cuddles (played by Edith Massey, recognizable to any John Waters fan), with everyone else in the town hating her to the point of throwing food and objects in her general direction. Francine’s mother is no help either, who works to make her life miserable, even going so far as trying to murder her. The film involves Francine living out her strange life in a small town, complete with every small-town stereotype you can possibly imagine.
Polyester is quite tame for a Waters film…there isn’t really any nudity, hardly any foul language, and all of the scenes actually have a purpose rather than being randomly crazy. Despite the lack of Waters’ signature perversion and general craziness, you would still recognize this as a John Waters film instantly. Between the music, sound effects, cinematography, editing, set design, and general atmosphere, the whole experience has that signature John Waters feel. Still, Polyester lacks the filthiness normally associated with Waters.
So where’s the requisite gimmick? Well, unfortunately the gimmick is something you will just have to imagine…Polyester was screened with something called Odorama, which was a numbered scratch-and-sniff card given to those in attendance while the film was still playing in theaters. At certain points in the film, a number would flash up on the screen. You would scratch the corresponding number on the card, and get a smell that was present in the film. Everything from pizza to farts to roses made an appearance; I can only imagine how crazy this made the experience of seeing this film in a theater. I don’t know if any of these Odorama cards are still out there unused, but I would imagine the scents on them have degraded over the past 30 years.
While Polyester may be a departure from the depravity John Waters explores in his movies, it’s still great. An interesting and engaging plot, plenty of opportunity to yell at characters, imagining the Odorama cards…despite being relatively tame (or perhaps because of it), this is a hilarious movie. Polyester is a great way to introduce a John Waters noobie to his style before shocking them with something like Pink Flamingos. Go find a copy and watch it today!