Thursday, October 18, 2012

Queens of the Midwest: "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" (1995)

Although it often crosses over into stereotype and sentimentality, this film is made likeable by its fabulous cast.

Vida (Patrick Swayze) and Noxeema (Wesley Snipes) are co-winners in a New York drag queen contest. They win a trip to Hollywood to compete in a national pageant. Taking pity on drag queen in training Chi-Chi (John Leguizamo), they sell the two plane tickets and buy a Cadillac convertible and drive cross country. They have a run-in with hick sheriff Dollard (Chris Penn), and Vita thinks she has killed him after he discovers her secret male identity. The car breaks down somewhere in the Midwest, and the trio must wait a weekend before the part can be ordered. In the meantime, they integrate themselves into the small town, solving everyone's problems, and giving the place a little pizzazz.

There are points in this film where my eyes rolled. No one in the town knows these three are men dressed in women's clothing. The dumb hick routine has been done before, and this film does not add anything. Vita, Noxeema, and Chi-Chi all have a heightened sense of fashion, have been rejected by their families, and can only rely on each other. Dollard is an insensitive bigot hunting the three down after being laughed at by other law enforcement officers. He is also a cliche, although Penn's scene in the bar talking about a man getting it on with another man is the highlight of the film.

Despite all the stock characters, I am still recommending the film. Sure, the characters have been done before, but I still really liked them all, even the villainous Dollard. The small town is populated by extremely good acting talent like Stockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Melinda Dillon, and Jeremy London, and that adds to the film.

The writers never degenerate into the visiting trio trying to cover up the fact that they are men through weak slapstick or goofball chase scenes. After a while, I forgot Snipes, Swayze, and Leguizamo were actors dressed like women. There are no instances where the three "slip up" and reveal they are men, like "Tootsie" or "Some Like It Hot," and I am not faulting those films for that. Those films had straight men forced to dress like women. Here, Vita, Noxeema, and Chi-Chi make no secret of their love for men, and don't care what others believe of them (unless they could get physically hurt in the process. The title of the film refers to an autographed photograph the trio takes with them, turning it into their shrine and reason for going on.

With cameos by Robin Williams, RuPaul, and the actual Julie Newmar, I found I enjoyed "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" more than I probably should have. But like the three ladies, I just did not care. (* * * *) out of five stars.