Trash-cinema auteur John Waters took a step backward with this picture, perhaps because he knew he couldn’t get any more outrageous than he did with his first color film, Pink Flamingos (1972). And since he returned to form with his next picture, the giddily perverse Desperate Living (1977), it’s probably best to regard Female Trouble as a minor effort from a prolific period. As always during Waters’ early days, the star of the show is rotund transvestite Divine. He plays a teenager (!) named Dawn Davenport, who runs away from home. Soon afterward, she has a tryst with a scumbag named Earl Peterson. He’s also played by Divine, leading to the strange image of Divine, dressed as a man, humping Divine, dressed as a woman. (Oh, the things a resourceful filmmaker can do with body doubles.) Anyway, Dawn becomes a hardened criminal and gives birth to Earl’s baby, not necessarily in that order, so adventures ensue, leading to Dawn’s final showdown with the law. Waters has said the picture was inspired by his conversations with an imprisoned member of the Manson family, and that’s telling. Whereas in other pictures Waters celebrates societal rejects looking for acceptance, in Female Trouble he crosses a line by celebrating irredeemable sociopaths for no edifying reason. Partially because of this thematic problem and partially because the story is episodic and weak, Female Trouble drags, no pun intended. There’s plenty of Waters’ usual repulsive stuff, but none of it feels truly brazen. Sure, some of the lines are enjoyably crude (“I wouldn’t jump in a bed that had been defiled by you—I’d sooner jump in a river of snot!”), but too much of Female Trouble comprises such pointlessly grotesque imagery as the shot of dark skidmarks staining (male) Dvine’s tighty-whities while he screws (female) Dvine. So by the time Waters recycles the image of a performer shooting a gun at an audience, previously seen in Multiple Maniacs (1970), it’s clear he’s running on some very unpleasant-smelling fumes.
Female Trouble: LAME