Reviewed by: George Williamson

The Miss Gay America pageant is the world's largest male crossdressing competition. It's the search for the best female impersonator in the whole of the USA and has been crowning one talented faux femme annually for 35 years. It's a hard fight. Contestants are allowed no implants, hormones or augmentation, and competition is savage as every act tries to outdo the others with new, increasingly elaborate stage shows, ranging from uncanny imitations of Reba McEntire to sequined Siamese twin ventriloquism. Really, how can this film fail to be spectacular?

Pageant presents the competition in a fairly standard format by following a handful of state winners on their voyage to the grand final in Memphis. The variety of entrants is diverse in a way that a regular beauty contest can't hope to compete with - they're old and young, fat and thin, black and white - this keeps things from ever becoming stale.

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They all have unique experiences and lives that are genuinely fascinating, with individuals like the jolly, corpulent Victor "Pork Chop" Bowling who's a professional drag artist to Robert "Chantel Reshae" Martin who met his straight dance partner backstage working at Disney. These are all highly skilled actors with painstakingly choreographed dance routines, makeup regimes that would make goths cry, and enough rhinestones, strategic padding and fake eyelashes to sink a battleship.

The Miss Gay America pageant is a documentary filmmaker's dream come true. All participants are flamboyant and interesting characters, willing to discuss everything from work in professional stage shows to their first experiences in drag. The level of restraint in the interview procedure shown by directors Ron Davis and Stewart Halpern is actually quite surprising - this doesn't feel overwhelmingly sensational or cloyingly camp as one might expect - most of the time it's best described as sweet.

It's actually quite incredible how ordinary and friendly the proceedings appear - there's almost no drama; it feels very wholesome. In any pageant preconceptions would include at least some catty remarks and the odd bit of insult slinging - perhaps a little bit of hair pulling or costume sabotage too - but there's nothing like this shown in the film. It's a bit of shame as some underhand dealings would have made things a bit more exciting, and it's not clear whether the reason for their absence is editorial.

Pageant is a little more mainstream than might have been hoped, but it's still an entertaining portrait of some wonderfully larger than life characters, a mind blowing amount of effort and an incredible desire to win.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2008
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An in-depth look at drag queens in preparation for the Miss Gay America.

Director: Ron Davis, Stewart Halpern

Year: 2008

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: USA


EIFF 2008
CFF 2008

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