Divine was touring as a cabaret singer when director John Waters made this comedy of the grotesque, but he filled the void admirably with the equally rotund Jean Hill and burlesque-queen Liz Renay.
The film tells the story of Peggy Gravel (Mink Stole), a mad housewife who kills her husband then goes on the lam with her 300-pound maid Grizelda (Hill). After being sexually accosted by a lewd, cross-dressing cop with gingivitis, the women are directed to Mortville, a shanty-town for fugitive criminals ruled by the evil Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey).
Carlotta's daughter, Princess Coo-Coo (Mary Vivian Pearce) wants to renounce the throne and marry a nudist garbageman, so the Queen has him killed and enlists Peggy's aid in infecting the kingdom with rabies.
Waters uses a fairy-tale framework to indulge his penchant for nauseating set-pieces, such as a transsexual lesbian (Susan Lowe) having her new penis cut off with scissors and fed to a dog, women being fed live cockroaches, and Peggy being assaulted at a lesbian glory-hole. Massey is hilarious as the Queen, urging her leather-clad bodyguards/sex-toys to rob my safety-deposit box!, but the oddly-named actor Turkey Joe steals the show in his brief role as a lecherous cop, spouting lines like I love the feel of cold nylon on my big butt! and slobbering over Grizelda's huge underpants.
The pinnacle of gross-out humor, Desperate Living is Waters' strangest and funniest film.