I Am Divine Review
by Laurie Coker
SXSW always offers gems in the documentary category, and I try my best to see at least a few, because I too often focus more on the narrative categories. I did, however, find a film about Divine on one trip to the screening library. I thoroughly enjoyed I Am Divine, the story of Harris Glenn Milstead, born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1945. He struggled, like so many do in their youth, with his identity, but he would later become Divine, a bigger than life character who lived life LARGE!
Directed by Jeffrey Schwartz, I Am Divine takes us through the life of Milstead to his alter-ego as the vampy, audacious, and outrageous Divine. She became the larger than life star, whose friendship with John Waters and shocking behavior won her/him fame. She even played duel male and female roles in Female Trouble and the hit Hairspray, starring alongside Ricki Lake in the latter. Divine’s sudden death at the age of 42, due to an enlarged heart, shocked the world and stole a huge comic talent.
Often chided for her filthy mouth and over-the-top characterizations, Divine not only struggled with her identity, but she fought to be taken seriously for her obvious natural comic timing. Schwartz’s film wonderfully captures the heartache of being so big and so different in an often unforgiving and intolerant community. Using footage from Divine’s life, film and interviews of friends and colleagues, including John Waters, Schwartz chronicles a tumultuous life.
Engaging, enraging, and inspiring, I enjoyed every minute with Divine. Schwartz pays a perfect tribute to a pioneer who lived a brief life monumentally and with passion and zeal in a time when such goings-on were totally taboo. I loved it! I am placing an A in my grade book. I wish he had given us more.