Movie Reviews

A Review of the Film: To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar

Written by Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Beeban Kidron

In many ways this movie is the typical theme of strangers come into a small town and turn it upside down, leaving it for the better. However, there’s a twist. The strangers are gay drag-queens.

Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze are two drag queens, Noxeema Jackson and Vida Boheme, thrown together after being crowned the co-winners of the “Miss Drag Queen” title. They see John Leguizamo as Chi-Chi Rodriguez crying over losing and Vida convinces Noxeema to take Chi-Chi to Hollywood with them.

The transformation sequence in the beginning of Swayze and Snipes dressing in drag for the pageant is incredible. The two start out as very good-looking men and end up as passable women. However, Wesley Snipes has a few too many muscles to really pull off the bare-backed dress.

John Leguizamo is the best looking cross-dresser since Hank Azaria in The Birdcage. He’s a funny character without becoming the caricature that Jack McFarland is on television in Will and Grace. From what I heard at the time, there was some heavy competition in Hollywood to be cast in these roles, and I think the three chosen did a tremendous job.

Choosing style over substance when they go to purchase an auto with the money from the two plane tickets they’ve cashed in, the three drive away in a boat-sized convertible. The title of the film comes from a picture above the booth the three of them sit in during a visit to the restaurant owned by Robin Williams. The purloined picture accompanies them on their cross-country, Thelma-and-Louise-style journey.

The car breaks down in the middle of Snydersville. It’s a town that’s been seen in many other movies; a small town where there is not much to do or anywhere to go. Everyone seems to know everyone else and their business, but everyone is in denial about all of the bad things that go on. The youth that are capable of doing so leave this place as soon as they are able. The rest are stuck to perpetuate an endless, depressing cycle.

That’s the biggest problem with the film is that there are deep, painful, and sometimes disturbing, moments in the middle of all of the frivolity. There’s a sad moment prior to the trio reaching Snydersville when they arrive in Vida’s hometown and they park outside of his wealthy parent’s home. His mother comes out and for a moment there is hope in his eyes. When she turns and goes back into the house, I could sense the pain he felt at the rejection by his family through the years. It’s also evident at the hesitation Noxeema and Vida feel at trying to check into a motel in middle America. They are worried about the way they’ll be treated, while Chi-Chi just walks right in. (For the record, they are mistaken for being part of a women’s basketball league that is staying there and warmly welcomed.)

There are also moments that deal with spousal abuse as well as a scene that seems to rescue Chi-Chi just before “she” is gang-raped. These moments give the film a schizophrenic feeling at times, but are necessary. The funny parts are probably the most unreal of the film, while the reality that people like this face is in these moments.

When a gay man has too much fashion sense for one gender, he is a drag queen…

Stranded in Snydersville, waiting for a part so their car can be repaired, the three “women” integrate themselves with the local populace. Soon the “local loon” is coming out of her shell with Noxeema. Vida finds herself trying to heal the owner of the hotel (if you can call it that) where they are staying, CarolAnn, portrayed by Stockard Channing. Chi-Chi finds herself falling for a local boy, Bobby Ray. and he for her, but the fact that “she” is really a “he” isn’t something Bobby Ray has yet picked up on.

Channing and Swayze do a marvelous job with their respective roles. When they are together, it seems like their friendship would be a perfectly normal one. And that is the whole point of the film – isn’t it? Whether our friends are cross-dressers, gay, straight, science fiction fans, goths, whatever, their hearts are what matter. The bond that develops between the characters of CarolAnn and Vida is the main story of the film, in my opinion. Everything else is mainly fun.

The performances are what saves this film from really falling flat. Swayze’s proved his dance background before, and it carries through during this film, making him into the more elegant and refined of the three. Snipes is mainly present for comic relief and delivers one-liners that seem to hit the spot and cut the tension at appropriate moments. Leguizamo portrays his character as a Rosie-Perez style innocent, and with the feeling that he is still adjusting to this part of his life. It would seem that dressing in drag and acknowledging it publicly is something new for Chi-Chi. Leguizamo portrays the character as woefully naive, and does it well.

The DVD of this film contains as bonus material some deleted scenes. For the most part, they add little to the story and are fine to end up on the cutting room floor. However, there are two that could have been left in. One is when they decide to abduct the Julie Newmar photo from the wall of the restaurant. The other is the scene where the one woman in Snydersville first demonstrates her affection for the owner of the cafe. These two scenes just fill in something that seems to be missing while viewing, tying together certain parts of the story.

This movie is really fun without being offensive, in my opinion. If you can’t handle Will and Grace, then pass on this film. Though that television show is way more overtly sexual than this film is, the subject is there and some people cannot watch it without their blood boiling. I’d have no problem letting my 12 year old watch it, as she’s watched R-rated movies with her friends already. Frankly, I think she’d be largely bored by it, especially since Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes are not huge stars in her eyes. Would it shock her or traumatize her for life? Not at all, and there’s a good message in the film about being true to yourself.

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