Directed by ex-pat fashion photographer William Klein, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? is an anarchic confection of pop-art percolations, ribald comic set-pieces, and counter-cinematic abstraction. Staged as mock-verite docudrama, the film follows the eponymous Polly Maggoo (Dorothy McGowan), a supermodel who doubles, for both diegetic and intra-diegetic spectators, as a blank slate, a sussied-up, two-dimensional tabula rasa on which lewd, fairy-tale fantasies are projected. For the French television crew that follows her, she represents little more than a facile variation of the Cinderella narrative: a rags-to-riches heroine in need of a prince. But as the documentarians’ bungled, reductive response fails to answer the title’s central query, the film counters with a dazzling, deconstructive display that uses its fashion-industry trappings in the employ of an acerbic social satire of fame, gender, politics, mass media, and the so-called “society of the spectacle,” where the constant consumption of mass-produced images has corroded human relationships.
An absurdist farce, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? bristles with comic energy and explodes with an orgiastic, near-manic visual design. Resembling the experimental cinema of Godard, the film combines baroque costumes and symmetrical set-design with spastic, unmoored cinematography and jagged, jump-cut-heavy editing. But the film’s success cannot be boiled down to its radical aesthetic design. Above all, Polly Maggoo can be described as a caustic, near-flippant middle finger of a film, lacing its multi-layered social critique with biting, laugh-out-loud comedy.
Or as Polly herself might say: “Beep-beep!”