Starring-Mink Stole, Liz Renay
Scott’s Review #534
Reviewed December 4, 2016
Desperate Living will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is a raunchy, late-night comedy, similarly to other John Waters-directed cult-classics. This one, however, suffers from the absence of Waters staple, Divine, who did not appear due to scheduling conflicts. For this glaring omission, Desperate Living is not the greatest of the Waters films, but it is a fun experience all the same.
The film has choruses of political satire, specifically fascism, and overthrowing the government.
Mink Stole (Peggy Gravel) takes on the lead role as a crazed, mentally unhinged, neurotic woman on the lam with her maid, Grizelda, after they accidentally cause the death of Peggy’s husband. Peggy has been in and out of mental hospitals and is clearly off her rocker as she yells at neighbors about communism.
After an encounter with a lewd police officer, the duo is banished to Mortville, a town filled with outcasts and social deviants. They align with others in the town to overthrown the tyrannical Queen Carlotta, played by Waters fixture Edith Massey. Carlotta plots to spread rabies throughout the community and are at war with her daughter, Princess Coo Coo.
The issue with Desperate Living really is the absence of Divine, originally set to play Mole McHenry, a self-loathing female wrestler, determined to receive a sex change operation. One imagines the Divine in this important role, which was played by Susan Lowe, a capable star, but no Divine. With Divine in the part, the hilarious possibilities are endless. Mink Stole carries the movie well, but traditionally being a supporting player in Waters films, is not quite the star the film needs to be a true success.
This is not to say that the film is a dud- it is entertaining and will please most Waters fans. It contains gross-out moments and vulgarity from the very first scene- as the opening credits roll, we see a roasted rat, daintily displayed on good china, on an eloquent dinner table, presumably to be served.
Later, Carlotta meets her fate by being roasted, pig style, on a spit with an apple in her mouth. Another character is executed by being shot in the anus. The offensive moments never end!
There also exists a quite controversial scene that I am surprised made the final cut. Peggy, already in a frazzled state due to a neighbor-boy accidentally shooting out her bedroom window, is shocked to find another boy playing “doctor” with a little girl in her downstairs basement. Both children are completely naked, leaving not much to the imagination. This scene is tough to watch as one wonders what the child actors thought of all of this. I have never viewed another scene quite like this in film.
Otherwise, Desperate Living is filled with cartoon-like characters, lots of sexually deviant leather men, grizzled men with facial hair, and other odd-looking characters, making up the community of Mortville. Water’s set creations for the exterior scenes of the town are great- using mainly cardboard and rubbish he found throughout Baltimore where the film was shot, the sets show a bleak yet colorful underworld.
Desperate Living is a raunchy good time with over-the-top acting, trash-filled moments, and laugh-out-loud fun. The lack of any Divine makes it not the first offering to watch from the Waters collection. Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble would take that honor.