Freak Show

 

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Trudie Styler’s directorial debut takes a broad swipe at the high school outsider genre with entertaining results.

    Freak Show

Transvisionary: Alex Lawther

 

It was only in April that critics heaped praise on a film called Love, Simon. The premise was audacious: here was a high school romcom in which the central protagonist was gay. And the said fellow is so desperate to hide the fact from his friends and family that he becomes a prime target for blackmail. Shock horror! The dilemma was played out engagingly by an agreeable cast and there was much humour to go round. However, it was also rather cosy and old-fashioned, and would have been far more significant had it made been twenty years ago. Time, then, for Freak Show.

 

Billy Bloom is heading for high school in a Southern town far from his familiar territory of Connecticut (the home of Chloë Sevigny) and he is not just gay, but “transvisionary”, darling. “I didn’t choose to be fabulous,” he says, “fabulous chose me.” The film is rife with such lines, the dialogue competing in earnest with a fabulous array of sequined and be-feathered outfits, enough to make the ghost of McQueen weep.

 

Initially cold-shouldered by every student he meets, Billy is adopted by a sympathetic spirit (AnnaSophia Robb), who takes him so much by surprise that he doesn’t recall her name, and from then on she is referred to as Blah Blah Blah (even in the closing credits). The film is full of such playful self-effacement, but beneath its barnstorming cry for tolerance, lies a much sadder tale. Billy is the product of a broken marriage and is reared by vaudeville queen Bette Midler, who dotes on him with treats, feather boas and fortune cookie maxims, creating “a circle of two”. Billy dismisses his father, a conservative millionaire (Larry Pine), as “Daddy Downer”. The latter does not take kindly to his son’s outré behaviour, warning Billy that, “a nail that sticks out, gets hammered down.”

 

There is an air of the freakish about the film itself. It is directed by the wife of Sting (Trudie Styler), is produced by Drew Barrymore and co-stars John McEnroe as Billy’s PE teacher. WTF? And Billy himself is played by the young Alan Turing. Alex Lawther first came to attention in The Imitation Game, as the schoolboy Turing who carried a torch for his friend Christopher. Lawther then delivered more low-key performances in X+Y and Goodbye Christopher Robin (as the older Christopher Robin), but now truly takes the screen by storm. Channelling the spirit of Tim Curry from Rocky Horror with a dollop of Adam Ant and other camp icons, he slips as effortlessly into an American accent as he does a star-spangled frock. To counter such high spirits, there are more grounded turns from Celia Weston as the Blooms’ loyal housekeeper and Abigail Breslin as Billy’s amply proportioned rival for the title of homecoming queen. What crumbs are left, Bette Midler scoops up with a ladle.

 

Taken in the spirit of a riotous assault on the high school outsider template, the film is a blast. And with the talent involved, it’s a blast with class.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Alex Lawther, Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb, Ian Nelson, Celia Weston, Laverne Cox, Bette Midler, Larry Pine, Lorraine Toussaint, Laverne Cox, Willa Fitzgerald, John McEnroe, Michael Park.

 

Dir Trudie Styler, Pro Jeffrey Coulter, Chris Miller, Bryan Rabin, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Ember Truesdell and Charlotte Ubben, Ex Pro Drew Barrymore, Screenplay Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio, from the novel by James St James, Ph Dante Spinotti, Pro Des Franckie Diago, Ed Sarah Flack, Music Dan Romer.

 

Flower Films/Maven Pictures-Miracle Communications.

90 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 22 June 2018. Cert. 12A.