A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

January 31, 2010

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

Last Monday, while we were deep in our Star Trek marathon, one of our favorite television programs started its glorious, glamorous third season. I speak, of course, of RuPaul’s Drag Race – the greatest reality program competition ever conceived. This season needs only a guest judge appearance by Mary Murphy to encompass all of our favorite reality television competitions in a single program since we already have Santino from Project Runway as a judge and now Sutan the make-up artist from ANTM as a competitor. Fierce! In celebration of Ru’s third season of fabulous drag divas we’ve chosen tonight to watch a movie that actually features her in a small role – and one of the longest titled movies in our collection.

The movie starts with a drag competition in New York where RuPaul announces an unexpected tie win between two fabulous drag queens. The graceful and elegant Lady Vida played with panache by Patrick Swayze and the edgy Noxeema played by Wesley Snipes. Both of them have won plane tickets to go to Hollywood to compete in the Miss Drag USA contest, but Vida has other plans. She is a queen with a soft spot for problem cases, and when she comes across a dissolute young Chi Chi crying in a stairwell because she didn’t win Vida convinces Noxeema that they need to bring Chi Chi along to California. So they sell their plane tickets and buy a battered Cadillac convertible and set out for LaLa Land.

That’s just the set up though. We get a couple scenes of the ladies travelling the country (and Vida visiting her home town) but pretty soon they find themselves desperately lost somewhere in the backwood country south where they run afoul of a prejudiced sheriff, soon after which their car breaks down. They are forced to spend the weekend while waiting for their car to be fixed in the most backwards of drab and dusty towns, where everybody is practical and miserable. It soon becomes clear that this it not a road movie at all – it is a movie about clashing cultures. How will these dragalicious ladies deal with these country hicks, and how will the hicks deal with them?

When this came out there were inevitable comparisons with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but they’re not really very similar movies. Sure they both feature a trio of drag queens on a road trip (you know, that old chestnut) but they diverge pretty strongly as they get into the meat of the movie. Whereas Priscilla is about queens needing to get away from the city to learn something about themselves the ladies in this movie are much more sure of themselves and their place in the world. Particularly the ever in charge Vida, for whom the entire town is another of her problem cases to be taken under her wing and nurtured to its greatest potential like Chi Chi.

This movie is pure escapist fantasy, but it’s a tender and delightful fantasy. It takes situations that are, in our cruel real world, horrific and by the power of drag, positive thinking and pure willpower converts them into glorious joy. The turning point is a sort of magical makeover montage where to the tune of the Wonder Woman TV theme the three ladies re-decorate their drab hotel room into a colorful wonderland. Up until then there are moments in the movie where you think that dire things might happen to our charismatic trio, but after that you know that everything is just bound to turn out gloriously. From then on it’s just a fun ride as we watch the power of glamour overcome the dusty blandness of this little town.

There are a lot of laughs to be had here. Particularly in the outrageous performances of John Leguizamo as Chi Chi and Wesley Snipes as Noxeema. Swayze is all poise and elegance as Vida, so the other two have to provide much of the levity in the movie. There are also some moments of surprising tenderness. In particular there’s a fantastic scene where Noxeema brings a catatonic woman out of her dazed listlessness by talking at her about movies. Given the project that my wife and I have been engaged in for the last 336 days it should be no surprise that this struck a chord with me.

My one complaint would be that as a work of pure magical fantasy the movie sometimes feels like it is trivializing matters that shouldn’t be glossed over in such a way. The way that Noxeema overcomes a group of local hoods who seem bent on molesting her is fun, sure, but its implausibility makes it hard to accept. There’s a whole plot about a downtrodden and beaten wife (played brilliantly by the way by Stockard Channing) but the simplistic way that it is resolved feels almost like an affront to women having to deal with these circumstances. I have to keep reminding myself – this is fantasy. This is the way the world SHOULD work, not the way that it does.

I also want to say that while it is great that this movie got some big name Hollywood actors to dress up in drag and act camp, after having seen so many talented professional drag superstars on Ru’s show over the last couple years I sometimes wished that our stars could have been as glamorous and amazing as those pros. It’s an unreasonable expectation I know, and I appreciate the job that Swayze, Snipes and Leguizamo do, but I know that drag can be so much more. Still – this is more an homage and tribute to drag than an actual drag performance.

This movie was the perfect film to watch before RuPaul. It’s all about the awe inspiring power of drag and how a little self confidence can change the world. Because if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love someone else? Can I get an Amen?

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January 31, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Leguizamo and Swayze – and especially Snipes – just seem like Hollywood stars putting on a cabaret show. There is never any sense that these guys are real people. Good review, check out mine when you can!

    Comment by CMrok93 | March 4, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks, Dan. You’re exactly right I think.

      Comment by tanatoes | March 4, 2011 | Reply


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