Freak Show centres around teenager Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther – Ghost Stories), who dares to be different. He wants to cross-dress and gets noticed when he goes to school as Boy George. You can imagine that going down well with those in charge…
However, that’s no less out of the ordinary than one of the girls there who’s got religion, wears long-sleeved cardigans and he’s told hasn’t shown her forearms because she’s a “Cutter For Christ”.
Along the way, he falls for one of the high-school jocks, Flip Kelly (Ian Nelson), he refers to the female religious crazies-cum-‘mean girls’ of the school as “Ladies who lynch”. However, in giving them a verbal dressing down, he risks the wrath of being hassled by the popular crowd as they throw “masticated spit-balls”.
Billy idolises his absent mother, played by the Divine Miss M, aka Bette Midler, and she appears in flashback scenes to when he was a boy, telling him that when life kicks you, you just kick higher. Meanwhile, his rich Dad “likes to spread the wealth, but not the hugs and kisses”.
Not many people *get* him, but one who does is his school mate known as Blah Blah Blah (AnnaSophia Robb), since that’s how she talks in mid-sentence.
There are themes we have seen before, such as the fact Flip fancies him, but doesn’t want to let on to any of his school that he’s secretly gay. So, that feels like a trope from an ’80s high school flick, as does the fact he’s trying to beat the haters by getting them all on-side to become the school’s first male homecoming queen, whilst staying true to himself, so it’s mixing in modern themes about acceptance and inclusivity, all of which works out very well.
When asked by news reporter Felicia Watts how he identifies himself, said reporter is played by famous transgender actress Laverne Cox. Another guest star in this film is tennis ace John McEnroe as gym class Coach Carter, who, in one scene, gets to shout a lot and wisecrack a bit, and we know how expert he is at both elements.
The costumes he wears to school – once boosted by him pretending he has long, false nails by putting paperclips on his fingers – get increasingly outlandish, until one day, the bullies go too far…
But what stands out even more than his outfits is a brilliant central performance from Alex Lawther. He gives a commanding performance and the film is a fantastic showcase for how brilliant an actor he is. He’s definitely one to watch.
Freak Show rarely puts a foot wrong in the acting from Mr Lawther, and the direction from Trudie Styler, in her directing debut. You could say that with those ’80s movie elements, it’s not the most original film ever made, but on the other hand, it feels more like a modern updating of one of those films, and how one might be made if it was made today.
Running time: 90 minutes
Release date: February 25th 2019
Studio: Miracle Communications Ltd, Network
Director: Trudie Styler
Producers: Chris Miller, Jeffrey Coulter, Bryan Rabin, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Ember Truesdell, Charlotte Ubben
Executive Producers: Drew Barrymore, Jenny Halper, Cathleen Ihasz, Nicole Ihasz, Nancy Juvonen, Bruno Wang, Ivan Wilzig
Screenplay: Patrick J Clifton and Beth Rigazio
Novel: James St James
Music: Dan Romer
Billy Bloom: Alex Lawther
Flip Kelly: Ian Nelson
Blah Blah Blah: AnnaSophia Robb
Florence: Celia Weston
Bib Oberman: Walden Bryan Hudson
Lynette: Abigail Breslin
Bo Bo: Daniel Bellomy
Muv: Bette Midler
William: Larry Pine
Bernard: Christopher Dylan White
Tiffany: Willa Fitzgerald
Principal Onnigan: Michael Park
Coach Carter: John McEnroe
Dr. Vickers: Mickey Sumner
Mr. Reamer: Wally Dunn
Mrs. Monusky: Marceline Hugot
Felicia Watts: Laverne Cox
Sesame Blixon: Charlotte Ubben
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.