Polyester (1981) - Rotten Tomatoes


Polyester (1981)




Critic Consensus: As proudly tacky as its titular fabric, Polyester finds writer-director John Waters moving ever so slightly into the mainstream without losing any of his subversive charm.

Polyester Photos

Movie Info

After making a name for himself with such underground gross-out epics as Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living, director John Waters made a bid for somewhat wider acceptance with this black comedy, which is sedate only by the standards of his previous work. Francine Fishpaw (Divine) is a housewife whose life has become a living hell. Her husband Elmer (David Samson) runs a porno theater (currently showing the classic My Burning Bush) and is having an affair with secretary Sandra (Mink Stole), a vision of sleaze in Bo Derek-style cornrow braids who informs Elmer, "Children would only get in the way of our erotic lifestyle!" Francine has two teenage children, Dexter (Ken King), who likes to sniff glue and stomp on women's feet, and Lulu (Mary Garlington), a brazen slut who hangs out with overage juvenile delinquent Bobo (Stiv Bators) and gleefully anticipates her next abortion. Francine's best friend, Cuddles (Edith Massey), is a slightly insane heiress who is somehow convinced she's a debutante. Francine's life has become so miserable that her dog commits suicide rather than witness it, but a light appears on the horizon -- Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), the handsome and dashing owner of a local drive-in specializing in art films (their current bill is a Margurerite Duras triple feature), with whom Dawn enters into a torrid affair. Subversive on all fronts, Polyester was originally shown in "Odorama" (patrons were given a card with ten scratch-and-sniff patches, to be smelled at key points in the action) and featured a romantic theme song sung by that new hitmaking duo, Deborah Harry and Bill Murray.

Watch it now


as Francine Fishpaw
Tab Hunter
as Todd Tomorrow
Edith Massey
as Cuddles Kovinsky
Mink Stole
as Sandra Sullivan
David Samson
as Elmer Fishpaw
Joniruth White
as LaRue, Mother
Mary Garlington
as Lulu Fishpaw
Ken King
as Dexter Fishpaw
Hans Kramm
as Chauffeur
Rick Breitenfeld
as Dr. Quackenshaw
Michael Watson
as Freddy Ashton
Jean Hill
as Gospel Bus Hijacker
Jim Hill
as Picket Reporter
John Brothers
as TV News Announcer
Cookie Mueller
as Betty Lalinski
Susan Lowe
as Mall Victim
Tom Diventi
as Bo-Bo's Friend
George Hulse
as School Principal
Tony Parkham
as Teenage Witness
Alberto Panella
as Pizza Man 2
George Figgs
as Abortion Picket
Brook Yeaton
as Porno Picket
Frank Tamburo
as Pizza Man 3
Nancy Morgan
as Alcoholic Leader
John Allen
as Porno Picket
Tommy Allen
as Porno Picket
Keats Smith
as Boutique Saleslady
Gordon Kamka
as Detective A
David Klein
as Detective B
Steve Yeager
as Press B
Mary Egoff
as Press C
Chuck Yeaton
as Hospital Reporter
George Udell
as Jewish Man
View All

News & Interviews for Polyester

Critic Reviews for Polyester

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (3)

A fitfully amusing comedy of not so ordinary people.

September 12, 2008 | Full Review…

OK, so it's not The Cherry Orchard, but who could resist a film where a massive drive-in billboard proclaims 'Now showing - Three Great Marguerite Duras Hits'?

February 9, 2006 | Full Review…
Top Critic

The kind of send-up lends itself to loutishness, but Mr. Waters handles it brightly enough to give it distinctive wit.

August 30, 2004 | Full Review…

Polyester stands firmly as a gateway between the gross-out films of Waters' past and the soft-hearted sentimentalist ones that were to come.

June 8, 2020 | Full Review…

This time, John Waters has outdone himself: Polyester is a double-knit delight.

May 26, 2020 | Full Review…

Polyester is the start of a turning point in John Waters' career, the start of this radical outsider entering the mainstream.

October 23, 2019 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Polyester

Like a Fassbinder or Douglas Sirk movie made by John Waters, it is a mess with all his trademark filth, irritating overacting and ridiculous lack of structure and focus, and I guess it would be only amusing and worth seeing in the cinema for the Odorama scratch-and-sniff gimmick.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Classic John Waters. Bad in all the right ways.

Robert Fearon
Robert Fearon

Super Reviewer

I think that "Polyester" is John Waters' best movie. "Female Trouble" may have been funnier, but I prefer the elements in this softer creation to that earlier, meaner-spirited film. "Polyester" was the director's bridge between his last bad taste epic, "Desperate Living" (which was also great) and his first attempt at something mainstream, "Hairspray". So, what I think happened was a decrescendo of creative emotion. John Waters still has something to say about the lower middle-class here, but he used up the angry parts of his perspective when he was younger. Still, he wasn't quite ready for parody... In "Polyster", I suspect that the director wanted to utilize aspects of the culture that he had affection for. For one thing, Divine never played a more sympathetic character, and she was teamed up with Edith Massey, who was, in my opinion, the most memorable and lovable and enjoyable of all of the Waters' group. I think it's closer to call "Polyester" a tongue in cheek comedy than a satire. What's so funny about "Polyester" is how everybody acts around Francine, who is extremely kind, but ineffectual and dopey. Why is everybody so pre-occupied with tormenting her? I love how LaRue gets increasingly demented. And nobody can act humiliated and put-upon like Divine... Also, the sets are very warm and pleasant - I actually loved the Fishpaw house. Warm, funny, funny movie...

Cassandra Maples
Cassandra Maples

Super Reviewer

Polyester Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

News & Features