Jul 24, 2011

[Movies] To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)For the longest time, I always confused this movie with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for one reason or another. I suppose the imagery of drag queens performing in a relative wasteland can get pretty confusing. But then I finally sat down and watched both movies and I've never made the mistake since.

It's funny how many people compare the two movies given similarities like those that made me come to the inaccurate conclusion of which movie was which. But then the two had very different creative goals, at least in my opinion, thus understanding that is what really sets them apart. But yes, they certainly shared parallel lines of creative development given how they were released within a year of one another.

And in a movie that features relatively well-known actors dressed in drag the whole time, you know that the end goal isn't entirely serious. The shock value of seeing the trio dressed as women was designed as a crowd draw in itself, a way for the movie to rake in ticket sales. But beyond that, you might be surprised that there's more to this movie that just an elaborate gimmick. I'm not saying that there's a life-changing message woven into this narrative. But it is a pretty funny movie.

To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar is a 1995 comedy movie directed by Beeban Kidron and written by Douglas Beane. The movie had been nominated 2 Golden Globes - Best Actor in a Comedy / Musical and Best Supporting Actor along with a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film.

At a Drag Queen contest in New York, Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) and Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) win a trip to Hollywood in order to participate in a national competition. Chi-chi (John Leguizamo), a relatively inexperienced drag performer begs them to take him along for the ride and reluctantly they agree. But since the airline tickets are only good for two, they instead sell the tickets and purchase a classic Cadillac convertible and opt to drive down to California instead. As a sort of good luck charm for the trip, Vida has brought along an iconic photo of Julie Newmar that had been autographed.

During the trip they get pulled over by one Sheriff Dollard (Chris Penn), who tries to sexually proposition Vida until he realizes she's actually a man. He falls backward in shock and knocks himself unconscious, forcing the trio to run off believing he may be dead. When their car breaks down, they eventually find themselves stuck at a small town waiting for the repairs to be completed. Thus they have to deal with the kind of conservative small town beliefs that present a more limited view of the world, although many assume that they are actual women.

Thus the trio inevitably start to educate the various residents (especially women) about more forward-thinking when it comes to equal rights among the sexes and genders while trying to resolve little issues that have remained unresolved. Thus we get your classic case of the abusive alcohol husband, the town bullies and the inevitable movie makeover.

The sight of Wesley Snipes in drag is a pretty fearsome sight and inevitably gets laughs even when he's not trying. After all, he's more known for his action movie career and to see him in a dress with arms that could probably crack open walnuts is pretty weird. And yet he fully gives himself to the role, although I'm glad that Snipes isn't a REAL drag queen.

Talking to his fans after "Guys and Dolls...Image via WikipediaThe late Patrick Swayze is actually pretty darling in this movie and his portrayal of Vita is definitely one of dignity and class. And he's actually pretty darned pretty - with a dancer's figure that would be the envy of anyone his age at the time of this movie's release.

And of course John Leguizamo is just hilarious given his knack for character acting. He does make for one darling and rather slutty drag queen the likes of which I'm sure we've all encountered at least once before in our lives at some gay comedy club or what have you. Seriously, is there no role that this man can't handle?

The plot is nothing special and at times it feels like the movie is just meandering from one sketch to another. Let's have the the big where they use their magical gay powers to make the small town hotel room a lot prettier. Then let's have a makeover sequence with the older women of the town that's totally inappropriate. And don't forget to cue the bumbling, homophobic policeman!

But all in all, the movie is a campy piece of entertainment, one that is fun to watch and doesn't require much brain power. And that's really all it sets out to do, and thus in this regard it may have figured out its true legacy for queers everywhere.

To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar is a light, fun and campy comedy that is still a few notches above some of the b-movie reels that get released for the LGBT market. It gets 3.5 bitchy put-downs hurled Chi-chi's way out of 5.

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