To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar (Beeban Kidron,1995): USA

Reviewed by Kyle Calbreath. Viewed on DVD.

Dressing and becoming an individual takes a lot of balls. Dressing in drag, a man dressing as a woman, takes bigger balls most “real” men do not have.

To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar casts three men, Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo as drag queens on a road trip to Hollywood. After winning a contest, Noxeema (Snipes) and Vita (Swayze) are set to take a plane to the city of angles when they take pity on a young ingénue Chi-Chi (Leguizamo). They then sell there tickets and buy a used classic Cadillac convertible stating to the salesman after he suggests a Toyota, “style over substance.” And off they drive, silk scarves and wigs blowing in the wind.

They end up in some trouble when the flashy drop top breaks down and they are forced to hold up in a Podunk town full of haters and people of prejudice. The town folk think the drag queens are just career women from New York city and are instantly taken by there flair, confidence and beauty. Needless to say the three dames teach everyone a valuable lesson about loving yourself and others no matter what or who they are and what they look like. Penis or vagina it does not matter.

I first saw this film when I was a young lad. I remember my mother rented it for me. I don’t know why I just know she rented it and popped it in the VCR. I loved it. It’s a film full of comedy and heart without being corny and sentimental, which can sometimes ruin so many great stories.

I saw it this time recently, again as a rental, on DVD, with an old friend over many homemade Lemon Drops and popcorn. I think. I was four or five drinks deep before the film rolled the credits but I’m almost certain there was popped corn involved.

The costume design takes the fabulous center stage thanks to Vince Palomino and Marlene Stewart. The drag ensembles are drastic and fantastic, just as they should be. The town’s people are dressed in listless, less fun outfits, just as they should be.

The costume design plays just as much a role as the characters especially since so much of who the characters represent is played out in what they chose to wear. Clothing can be a form of confidence and self expression and the costume design represents this dictum with sparkle.

Eventually the cast uncovers a hidden loft full of colorful clothing and the three queens’ make-over the women of the town. They are given a new sense of self and work the dirt roads like never before. As the story progresses, the clothing of the town’s hillbillies become more flashy and emulative of the people they are and should be, illustrating the progression and growth in breaking down a cultural barrier.

The film continuity flows like the train of a silk gown on polished concrete. With the drag starlets experiencing a small sense of being known, only winning and performing in a dark underground clubs in New York City. Through a series of terrible events involving people that only want to hinder the ride of these lady’s lives, the film, with its characters, rises and shines to reveal fame and refinement in sunny California.

This is not the first film to feature men dressed as women. Priscilla Queen of the Desert did it and far before that Some Like it Hot. Also with the reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race, a drag version of America’s Top Model but less boring, and the pop success of Lady Gaga and her new hit Born This Way, the drag wars have continued to be waged.  Too Wong Foo is a film that pinpoints a minority group and casts them as outcasts yes, but never the victims. If there’s one thing this film has taught me and hopefully anyone else that chooses to rent it, it’s that everyone should grow a set of balls and live life proud. Help me Gaga, I’m working on it.




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