Review by Paul Preston
Welcome to Today I Watched…, a series of posts documenting my new challenge – watch a movie a day for the rest of my life. Keep coming back to TheMovieGuys.net to find out what I watch each day…and get my take on it.
When I see a movie that’s a new release in theaters or on demand, I’ll give it a proper review in the “Reviews” or “Home Viewing”, otherwise, I’ll write about it here.
July 16, 2017 – Freak Show
I had the honor of attending the closing night of this year’s OutFestLA where the big film was Trudie Styler’s Freak Show, based on the book by James St. James. Styler is the wife of musician Sting and they make quite a power couple, as she is a noted producer for films like Snatch and Moon. This is her narrative feature directorial debut and she shows a great knack for serving up a story of high school bullying, but soaking the whole experience in humor, which lifts the main character up to hero status in the audience’s eyes.
Nothing keeps down Billy Bloom, the new kid at a traditional high school. Billy loves to wear face glitter, giant hats, do himself up as a mermaid and more – think Cher or Lady Gaga at their most flamboyant. As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit with the conservative-types that make up the rest of the student body. Billy refuses to change, even after taking a physical beating from some of the bullies. His ultimate act of individuality and defiance is to run for Prom Queen. Standing in his way is Abigail Breslin, overacting a bit as the school popular girl, but he gets an unlikely ally in the school’s star athlete, played by Ian Nelson.
One area of Billy’s life that isn’t wanting is money. Billy’s dad is loaded, which allows Billy to take on the most elaborate outfits and sometimes other effects to let his freak flag fly (bubbles!). Billy leads us through his situation, commenting and narrating and it helps strengthen the strong character he has in the face of stupidity and shaming. He’s a charmer who is eloquent and very, very funny. He’s even funny to his detractors who don’t understand half of his references.
Billy is played remarkably by Alex Lawther (known for his portrayal of young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game). Lawther is effortless at the comedy and the fabulousness required to pull off Billy as a three-dimensional character. The script never goes too deep into his pain (his mother, played by Bette Midler, is problematic) or what might be missing in his life, but Freak Show is the second film I saw at OutFestLA that is really, really funny. As funny as any “mainstream” comedy out there and it has its heart in the right place, emboldening uniqueness and living your life truthfully, even if EVERYONE is making that hard.
Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this is a sideshow scene full of mutants and oddities, Billy Bloom is ready for the center stage (in full makeup).
Directed by: Trudie Styler
Run Time: 95 Minutes
Distributor: IFC Films