God Save The Queens

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

God Save The Queens
"Through the medium of drag – and with plenty of wit and glamour to enjoy along the way – Danger highlights the unreasonable expectations placed on all feminine people." | Photo: GTSQ Film LLC

Drag isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The lip syncing, the inside jokes – it’s easy to miss the point – but it also attracts hostility because of its unapologetic celebration of femininity in all its loudest and most lurid forms. Some view this as anti-woman; others hate it because they are anti-woman. It gives a voice to ways of being which women are encouraged to repress, but there’s a price to be paid for this. Femininity, wherever it is found, is a valuable commodity under capitalism, ripe for exploitation; and maintaining it is a drag of another kind.

Marmalade (Kelly Mantle) is getting older. She’s still well short of halfway through the average lifespan, but her skin isn’t as smooth as it used to be, her figure not as firm, and people are starting to notice. She’s just on the verge of that panic which a lot of women will relate to, especially if they work in industries where they’re judged on their looks. Marmalade knows that she could go on performing for years, if not decades more, but if she doesn’t make a breakthrough soon, the pay she gets for it will be atrocious. To make it worse, she has nobody to talk to about it except LaToyah, who may be loyal, but has a limited ability to offer support, being a parakeet.

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Gigi (Jordan Michael Green) is still young, but has another set of problems, not yet making enough on the stage to get by. It’s difficult to get other work when looking queer enough, even in boy mode, to frighten off prospective employers. A doting mother offers comfort, but the climb ahead is still going to be a tough one.

If they have it bad, it’s even harder for Stevie (Alaska Thunderfuck), who has reached a point in her career where some promoters treat her like a has-been and claim that she’s losing her looks. A slender thread of hope appears in the form of interest from a TV company, but it’s complicated by her longstanding rivalry with Rita (Laganja Estranja), who has also attracted their interest. The two fell out over a boy years ago in an incident which has since been exaggerated beyond all reason, and they snipe at each other at every opportunity – which, of course, plays straight into the hands of detractors and would-be exploiters alike.

What brings these disparate characters together is a therapy group which some are attending willingly, some under pressure. It gives them an opportunity to get away from the critics, the fans and sleazy impresarios to have more grounded conversations about where they find themselves in life. It gives viewers a chance to connect with them not just offstage, but away from the dramas which go on backstage, too. Though some choose to retain their glamour, even they gradually allow themselves to become visibly human.

Keeping performance to a minimum in favour of focusing on the real, Jordan Danger’s film, which screened at Outfest 2022, explores a scene in which dramatic rivalries are balanced by deep friendships, by efforts to help young people in vulnerable situations (even when they’re annoying) and by a culture of inclusivity. A particularly nice touch is the presence of Nolan (Zack Gottsagen), who doesn’t let Down syndrome get in the way of donning a candy pink wig and having fun. Nolan’s warmth brings out a different side of his perpetually stressed peers, but he isn’t just there as an emotional prop, having a slender but meaningful arc of his own.

Like all forms of performance, drag follows strict rules, but it is celebrated as a medium in which those onstage can tell it like it is, unvarnished and uncompromising. The limits of this become very clear in a scene towards the end when Stevie’s frustrations finally come to the boil. Speaking truth to power is a dangerous thing, but a good drag artist always punches up as she puts down. Through the medium of drag – and with plenty of wit and glamour to enjoy along the way – Danger highlights the unreasonable expectations placed on all feminine people, and the importance of solidarity in fighting back. She celebrates the freedom which can be found in refusing to play the game.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2022
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A quartet of drag queens meet on a group therapy retreat that will change their lives forever.


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