How wonderful that a film which—on the outside—appears to be a saga of two drag queens (a long-in-the-tooth veteran and one fresh-out-of-the-box rookie) but carefully and beautifully morphs into a poignant look into family life run amuck.
In fits of pique and anger, people say hurtful things that sting so badly that they cause what seem to be impermeable rifts.
Imagine being happily married with a beautiful daughter only to come home unexpectedly early one day and see your husband prancing about the house to the grinding music of Tom Jones dressed in your wedding dress?
Meet Jack (a.k.a. Jackie when performing his act as lip-synching singer and stand-up comedian in a small British club where audiences of all persuasions come to be titillated and possibly outraged). He’s worked these boards for many years. At the death of his humiliated wife, he vowed to honour her last request: “Do not come to the funeral.” Now faced with this own death sentence (6-7 weeks, incurable cancer) the man of many wigs and dresses must decide how to spend his/her remaining days. It’s an even greater challenge because Jackie is decidedly not gay, but comes alive when living life large as a cross-dresser, telling tired jokes that, nonetheless, always seem to get a laugh:
Q: What’s the difference between your wife and a job after being married five years?
A: After five years the job will still suck.
In the challenging role, Derren Nesbit delivers a tour de force performance as he works through his bucket list (including an especially moving “conversation” with his long-dead wife in the cemetery) while taking on the drag newcomer (“blow jobs weren’t paying enough”), mentoring the young man/woman with fatherly devotion that hadn’t been tapped since his daughter’s “I never want to see you again” moment a decade ago.
His demur protégé, not coincidentally named Faith, is done up to a glamourous T by Jordan Stephens who can readily play both sides of the street but also sports the all-too-rare instinct for young actors in knowing just when to let their elders dominate the scene. The coke, booze, cigs and dancing party of the unlikely pair being a prime example of the extraordinary talent and budding chemistry of both men.
The dramatic glue is in the subplot that blossoms into the main: Will Jack and his daughter, Lily, find the way to any sort of reconciliation before Jackie’s final curtain falls? (April Pearson does well in the brief role.)
Of course, with so many scenes in the club, the music plays a key role. Carefully selected songs (e.g., “Make It Go Away”, “I Will Survive” and especially “I Can Be Your Light” during the inevitable separation segment), artfully reinforce the narrative, allowing the actors to employ much more show than tell. Richey Rynkowski’s original score also infuses several subtle touches—notably from a quietly evocative solo piano—as various decisions are made or thoughts mulled over.
Director-writer Jamie Patterson has revealed an understanding of the human experience that creatively transcends “just” sexuality. Viewers of all stripes will be glad to tuck this impressive production onto their must-see list. JWR