Michael Scott

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Apr 4, 2017
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Freak Show


Movie: :2.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :halfstar:
Final Score: :3stars:


“Buckle up darlings, I’m gonna take you on a wild ride I call my life” croons teenage drag lover Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) in the opening shot. Well, when you’ve got a glut of rich, bored teenagers in films these days, it seems like a “one up” showmanship as each one is a bit crazier than the rest, but Freak Show really does take you by the hand lead you down the bizarre life of Billy Bloom and his crazy, but styled, world he calls his life. We’ve not had a whole of of Drag queen movies lately, with the only ones I PERSONALLY can remember being classics like To Wong Foo, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and the whacked out John Waters movies starring Divine. However, Freak Show is not nearly so cleverly humorous as To Wong Foo, or delightfully charming as Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It starts out roguishly witty and taking the world by the horns, but soon devolves into brightly painted cliches and narcissism that is just plain bleak and uninviting. There are glimpses of fun and some sweet moments, but those moments aren’t as blatant as the oppressive narcissism that permeates the hopeless plight of the classic “be yourself!” mantra that Freak Show tries to promote.

Bill Bloom is an out and proud drag queen of a teenager, who was raised by his glamour girl mother (played by Bette Midler) until she unfortunately died. Now, the glamour saturated teenager is back in one of those OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO so oppressive “red” states with his rich tycoon father who just doesn’t understand him. With wealth and privilege comes so much torturous pain, as Billy refuses to be anything but himself for the ultra conservative school that he’s forced to attend. Which naturally results in some pretty twisted bullying (one of which actually lands him in the hospital). Still, life is grand for the young teen, as he winds his way through the clicks and cliches of high school life, even going so far as to befriend the hunky football star who can “spot a Jackson Pollock from a mile away”.

However, things get a bit sticky when Billy decides that he wants to run as home coming queen and he is now forced to face the full brunt of the already heavily telegraphed bigotism. Running for queen in most high school is a bit of a popularity contest, but when you’re the gleeful social outcast, it’s even more daunting. Despite those road blocks, Billy pushes against the societal norms till he and the overly cliched religious zealot that he’s fighting against are the last two names on the upcoming vote.
Freak Show doesn’t shy away from painting with massive strokes of cliché throughout the film. Everything about the movie is a walking cliché, ranging from Billy’s mother Mauvine being a stage queen, his father being a no-fun business tycoon, and his his whole southern state as being one giant oppressive bigoted mess. His school is no better, with the big popular being being a religious zealot full of all sorts of hatred, and Billy himself has such an air of superiority that he doesn’t even bother to learn the name of the ONE open minded wallflower who gives him the gossip about the school (played by AnnaSophia Robb). The villain is classically played by Abigail Breslin with such gusto that you can't help but loathe her, but her status as villain of the film rings a bit hollow when Billy himself is so self absorbed with his "I gotta be me" mantra, that he soon becomes as loathsome as she is. Basically boiling down to the fact that the movie villainizes anyone who isn't as enamored with the oddball Billy as Billy is, giving the underlying message of "being true to yourself" a bit of an undercut when Billy is so self absorbed and arrogant about his status that anyone who doesn't toe the line of "Billy is awesome!" is given a sneer and a shrug.

What makes matters more interesting is that the movie has a weird juxtaposition of dreamy surreal fantasy, and bleak narcissism. The whole inclusion of Flip, the hunky football player is one of those moments, as he is a stark contrast to all of the cliches, but is never expounded upon as anything more than a boy-toy for Billy. After that the movie spirals downward into deep, dark, depressive narcissism where nothing will ever go right for the poor oppressed “freak show”, and the movie ends so bleakly as to make you wonder if this was anything more than a film saying “look, the world is mean, and if you’re different you’re going to live a life of hilariously over cliched abuse”.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video: :4stars:
As is the case with many limited release films that don’t get a wild amount of publicity, I have very limited information on the actual cameras used and the resolution of the master used for the home video release, but I can say (after digging around) that Freak Show is a digital shoot that was most likely mastered in 2K. That being said, the Shout Factory disc looks quite nice, with some moments being stellar in clarity. The film is filled with vivacious and vibrant primary colors, as Billy coats himself in every shade of neon pink, red, blue and green shade imaginable. The film shifts between a dreamy surreal look that is a bit softer than normal, and one that is razor sharp and cleanly graded to be fairly neutral. Facial details are exquisite for the most part, allowing us to see every teenage facial hair underneath all of the makeup that Billy coats himself in, as well as the individual blades of grass as he and Flip laze out under the open sun in his father’s palatial estate. Blacks are usually good, but I did notice some crush that would come and go as well as intermittent banding. Nothing too egregious, but enough to catch my eye a few times.

Audio: :4stars:
Shout Factory does the standard 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA tracks for us to enjoy, with the 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix being the natural winner. It’s not a wild and thunderous action track, but the 5.1 mix gives a nice ambiance to the film, filling out the back end with the rumbling dialog of a busy high school cafeteria, or the clicking and clacking of thumbs tapping on smart phones while everyone puts in their vote for homecoming queen in the echoey auditorium. The vaudeville style score adds some oomph and pizzazz to the track as well, but a majority of the time
Freak Show is a simple dialog driven film that stays right up front in the center of the room, which it does quite well I might add. Vocals are clean and intelligible, and the track itself has an even balance that allows for a moderately spacious dramatic track to sound well done.

Extras: :halfstar:
• Trailer

Final Score: :3stars:

Based upon the book by James St. James, Freak Show gives us a superficial look at a drag queen in hyper stylized world, but doesn’t really give us any MEAT to sink our teeth into. Trudie Styler gives her directorial debut all she has, but her film is a bit disjointed and never really coalesces into anything more than a parody of real life mixed in with all of the worst aspects of reality. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray is quite nice, with good video and audio, but sadly the only extra on the entire disc is a lone trailer for the film. I wanted to like the disc more than I did (I LOOOOOOOOOVE To Wong Fu), but the movie is bleakly narcissistic when it shouldn’t be, and whimsical when it shouldn’t be as well. As a result, I have to just suggest renting if you’re interested, or skipping entirely for everyone else.

Technical Specifications:

Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Abigail Breslin, Alex Lawther
Directed by: Trudie Styler
Written by: Patrick J. Clifton, Beth Rigazio (Screenplay), James St. James (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Studio: Shout Factory
Rated: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: June 5th, 2018

Recommendation: Low Rental

Last edited:


AV Addict
Jul 13, 2017
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Thanks for the review. Will skip it. :)
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