Florida Film Fest review: I AM DIVINE
I AM DIVINE
Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz is apparently on a mission to make a documentary about everyone who has ever been the subject of a chapter in one of John Waters’ books. On the heels of Schwarz’s charming Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (FFF 2008) comes I Am Divine, an affectionate, even triumphant bio of Waters’ immortal leading “lady.” Via a treasure trove of film and video footage, still photos and talking-head interviews with Divine’s enamored contemporaries, Schwarz takes us through the beyond-unlikely process by which one Harris Glenn Milstead made childhood ostracization the fuel for an outrageous persona that turned drag on its head before most people had even heard of such a thing.
With this story of revenge via living well acting as the doc’s main “melody,” Divine’s many addictions become a sort of Jaws theme underneath, portending the heart attack that would claim his life at the age of only 42. Yet the doc is the opposite of a downer: It’s laugh-out-loud funny and eminently quotable (perhaps unsurprising, given the personalities involved). It also happens to be genuinely moving as it describes Divine’s eventual reconciliation with the parents who had once disowned him. In that sense, the movie is right on time, presenting us with the ennobling example of one family’s victory over pressures mainstream society is only beginning to understand.
“He could never pass as normal,” Waters says of his lifelong friend; I Am Divine points us toward a time when nobody will have to try.