The collaborative efforts of director John Waters and drag queen Divine placed both actor and director at the heart of underground cinema during the late sixties, seventies and early eighties. Their friendship and collaboration is discussed frequently throughout I Am Divine – a meditation on the life and work of Divine, but more importantly a closer look at the man behind the make up, Glen Milstead. A conventional and slightly underwhelming documentary, I Am Divine fails to ever fully captivate but remains a heartfelt movie about a man, a woman and a very special friendship. Being a movie purely about Divine, there is much discussion about her music career, theatre work, troubled family life and difficult childhood. Yet, I Am Divine is most fascinating when John Waters either contributes or is the centre of the documentary’s conversation. Waters’ and Divine’s relationship is reminiscent of Scorsese and De Niro’s. Their trust in one another improved their work and extended the possibilities of what they could achieve, cinematically. At its best, I Am Divine highlights the friendship and working relationship shared by the duo who are presented as kindred spirits and platonic soul-mates. The film typically considers the two sides of Glen Milstead and zooms in on the differences and emotions that drove each. Divine is presented as an exaggeration and a parody of all things drag, and all things Hollywood, whereas Milstead comes across as a passionate, extravagant and indulgent individual who longed to be taken seriously; both as himself and his alter ego.
Divine’s development, along with her rise to fame and eventually stardom, is explored decently and the film attempts to explore the psyche’s of both Divine and Milstead. Although the film doesn’t manage to completely get to the heart of both characters, it tries very hard and is evidently brimming with love for, and good intention towards, its subject. The film unsurprisingly discusses the most famous and controversial moments in Divine’s career – paying particular attention to a certain scene in Waters’ Pink Flamingos in which Divine ate dog faeces. This act, responsible for making the actress so notorious, went on to plague and haunt Milstead’s future interviews and career. Although the film makes Divine’s regret about performing such an act apparent to us, it itself chooses to dwell on the event for far too long. This still makes for interesting viewing but it all just feels a little too obvious and expected. I Am Divine is a good enough effort to bring the truth about a larger than life figure to the big screen. Although I enjoyed I Am Divine I couldn’t help but feel that this documentary wasn’t strong enough to contain its explosive main character. Divine believed in only having the best, and this documentary, about such a loud and glamorous star, seems altogether a little too dull and drab in comparison.
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