John Waters' best films tend to revolve around alternative families, groups of misfits bound together either, despite, or because of their grotesque lifestyles and antisocial attitudes. His usual leading "lady," Divine, brought curious touches of sweetness and humanity to odious roles as homicidal matriarchs in such trash epics as Multiple Maniacs and Pink Flamingos. Without Divine's jubilant presence, however, Desperate Living is saddled with a purely nasty tone. Mink Stole is brilliantly shrill as the psychotic soccer mom who murders her husband with the help of their morbidly obese maid. Once banished to the fanciful Mortville, they set up house with a dysfunctional lesbian couple (Liz Renay and Susan Lowe), but the relationship doesn't keep and betrayal is right around the bend. As the film progresses, the focus gradually shifts away from the newcomers, and by the end Renay and Lowe are the main characters, striking blows against the corrupt government of Mortville and feasting upon the idle rich. Desperate Living is uneven but still worth seeing for some of Waters' ugliest, if genuine, laughs.
by Fred Beldin review