I strongly recommend that most of you NOT watch this.

Martin’s Grade: A

The actor/singing/pop phenomenon Divine is the subject of this terrific new biographical film–but it’s also NOT a film for everyone.  After all, Divine’s persona was offensive and on the fringe–and deliberately so.  And so, if you can handle it, this documentary will be a treat.

Glen Milstead was a seemingly unremarkable kid.  After all, he grew up in the rather unglamorous city of Baltimore and there was little about his early years that would indicate he’d be world famous by his incredibly premature death at age 42.  But, from this humble beginning somehow sprang one of the most outrageous stars of the 1970s and 80s…and this film is his story.

Not surprisingly, the film begins with a lengthy discussion of his childhood and early adulthood.  Much of this was provided by his mother, Frances, but many friends contributed as well.  However, in his late teens, the sorts of friends he began associating with changed dramatically.  Up until then, he’d been a rather nerdy, chunky kid with a long-time girlfriend who was also secretly gay—and with few other friends.  However, when he met up with John Waters and the rest of his bizarre group of friends, Glen soon transformed himself.  Some of the transformation involved drugs and parties, but the most outrageous change was his creation of a character Waters christened ‘Divine’.  And Divine began appearing in a lot of super-cheap, offensive and weird underground films by Waters.  At first, no one noticed because no one was ready for such strangeness.  But, slowly, the character’s impact began to grow.  How it went from playing in super 8mm films to a world-wide star is the subject of the rest of the film.  I could say more, but frankly it’s better if you just see the film.

The documentary, fortunately, is not just a list of his screen credits and discussion of his films, but talks about his stage and music career as well.  Additionally, it shows a lot of genuine affection for Glen from all his friends, co-workers and mother.  And, about the part of him that was sad–the part that ate compulsively to fill some unfilled void.  This portion was actually quite touching–and let you know that off-screen and off-stage, he was very little like his insane persona, Divine.

So, why is this a film that I recommend that most of you don’t see?  Well, first it’s so incredibly offensive–mostly because Divine was a deliberately offensive character.  She curses, make a lot of crude remarks about sex and is a walking horror show in the film.  If you got the joke–it is great.  But many will simply be offended–especially when they talk about what he did at the end of the film Pink Flamingos!  As a fan of Divine who has seen him/her in just about everything (including most of the old 8mm films), I adored I Am Divine and was thrilled to hear about Glen and Divine’s successes…and oddness.  I also have very thick skin and a love of weird films–and Divine’s are a very strange assortment of movies–to put it mildly!  If you are already a fan, this film is for you!!  It’s better than the other biographical documentary, Divine Trash–mostly because it just seems a lot more complete.  Plus, it’s so well made and informative–and it’s exactly what his fans will love.  If you are not, watch at your own risk!!  In fact, I recommend in this case you do some film watching BEFORE you watch this bio.  Start with his LAST film (the original Hairspray) and work your way backwards!!  Then, after you’ve become thoroughly indoctrinated (if you can make it that far because they get weirder and more offensive the farther you go), then try seeing I Am Divine!  Seriously.  Otherwise a lot of the character and folks’ love of him/her just might make a lot of sense as you see this documentary and its weirdness might not make any sense.    Don’t say I didn’t warn you!!

This film is currently available streaming through Netflix as well as for sale from many sources including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

by Martin Hafer