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Polyester Review

The micro-budget efforts found within John Waters’ Polyester are astounding. That was immediately striking for me, and to see such a well-crafted film come together with rather engaging and enjoyable results, flourishing from a minuscule amount of cash. It’s where ingenuity comes in, taking the hand of the cast and crew, leading them to heights they, presumably, never could have envisioned. Now, Polyester is somewhat of a cult classic, a piece of early 80s history, one that strikes its audience as a send-up of those melodramatic pictures of old. It’s a resemblance that seems only fitting to this grandiose story of deconstructing suburbia. 

I’ve got a little soft spot for films that take on the mesmerising horrors of suburban life. Between this, Greener Grass, and the aesthetics of Edward Scissorhands, seeing the breakdown of that polished, well-kempt lifestyle is a real joy. We don’t see it as feverishly in Polyester, and whilst Waters is restrained with his visual styles, but makes up for it with some tentatively crafted, fluctuating characters. Believable, eccentric oddities that stick out like a sore thumb. They’ve no reason or right to be found within the surroundings of this neighbourhood, but the beauty of the film comes from this odd pairing. 

Waters’ directing style takes a bit of getting used to, the novelty of the “smell-o-vision” didn’t really gel with me as much as I’d hoped for, a rather forgettable but cute addition to a film that provides decent performances and a strong script. Whilst I’m not the greatest fan of melodrama, the moments of feverish over-acting and character fallout are handled rather well. They’re observing a catalyst, a complete breakdown of a nuclear family who seemingly live entirely different, isolated lives. It’s a fascinating piece, and I found myself more in awe of the film and its characters than anything else. Waters has no trouble finely-tuning these characters and expressing his motives clearly and in a manner that reeks of hilarity.  

Attention-grabbing gimmicks that pay tribute to the work of William Castle, an observation and critique of alcoholism, fetishism, divorce and drama, all set to the backdrop of that typical suburban lifestyle, Polyester as a concept is a refreshing and invigorating dive into the seedy, hidden underbelly of American culture. I love those dissections, with Waters’ satire here ripe and prominent the whole way through, but some of the characters could use some work, and even though their melodramatic prose is on point, I couldn’t help but feel unable to connect with or convince myself of their motives. Perhaps their motive is suffering, they all seem to manage that much for sure.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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