Desperate Living

Dir: John Waters, 1977


After the success that was Pink Flamingos, director John Waters began to be noticed. Although very little of it was complimentary or positive from the mainstream critics, the cinema going audience embraced him, wholeheartedly, fed up with the diet of platitude that was being regurgitated by the studios.

Desperate Living is a slight shift from Waters’ earlier work, displaying a maturity and technical flare that was absent from his earlier films.

In many ways it was rather a shame, as the guerilla style of filmmaking, coupled with nearly non-existent budgets, added a cheeriness to the cheap outgoings and a lack of restraint allowed the Pope Of Poop to go wherever he wanted.

Desperate Living lacks the outrageousness and offensive goings on that was a staple of Waters’ earlier work and so prevalent in creating the cult that they, and him, are today.

The trash element is still there. An obese black maid smothering the husband of her employer with her gigantic arse is a good example. But, it’s all about the look instead of the content which is the film’s downfall.

It can’t be denied that the director tries to offend and assault our senses but, somehow, just can’t seem to pull it off. Susan Lowe plays lesbian character Mole McHenry who undergoes a sex change. Waters shows us the penis that has been grafted on and takes great delight in the graphic removal of said appendage by a pair of scissors. It all sounds horrific and nasty but doesn’t feel that way when you’re watching it. There’s no shock value in any of it. Everything seems forced. The offensiveness and off-colour tone just doesn’t have that natural trashy texture that the writer and director was able to accomplish so easily.

Waters was rising from the depths of the underground and, with this, a mellowing in his creative output. That extremeness is missing and, as a result, the film is vacant.

The films of the legendary pencil moustached director, cannot be described as “for the masses”. However, if you aren’t part of that particular clique, then well done. You have the opportunity to relish in the turgid cesspool of John Waters’ mind.

Bad can be good and celluloid atrocities like Female Trouble and Multiple Maniacs prove that. But Desperate Living just doesn’t hold up.

Certainly, the film suffers without the casting of The Dreamlanders leading “lady”, Divine. A shining star, Divine had a presence and charisma that could never be replicated and the movie needs “her” as Edith Massey et al cannot carry a film.

To think that a John Waters movie could be boring is unthinkable but, here, it’s how it all plays out. You find yourself looking at your watch around the half way mark.

All in all, Desperate Living is a misfire caused by over-ambitiousness and exertion that triggers inertia instead of laughter.


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