Robin Turner is a gay hairdresser. He hates his job. He loves old movies and will do his customers' hair in the style of an iconic movie star if they'll let him, and even if they don't. At his apartment, he is harboring his medically diagnosed schizophrenic friend, Liza Connors, who can no longer stand being institutionalized. After Liza convinces Robin to attend a drag ball dressed as Tallulah Bankhead, Robin begins to feel liberated. On Liza's further urging, Robin accepts a local club's offer to work as a female impersonator, he doing his own singing unlike most drag queens. As he progresses with his female impersonation work to great aplomb, he takes a shot at making it big in New York City. The money will have to come in since despite medical warnings to her not to do it, Liza has become pregnant (not Robin's baby), she deciding to have and keep the baby. Written by
"Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Leo Robin
Sung by Craig Russell imitating Carol Channing, Marlene Dietrich, Ethel Merman,
Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey and Bette Midler See more »
At first I reacted against the sentimentality of the madness-as-nonconformism theme, which is really mostly down to Hollis McLaren; as Craig Russell's heavily medicated roommate, she gets more than a little familiar when she expresses her downturns with hushed gibberish or staring through her fingers. But in between episodes she really gets to articulate the bill of outsiders' rights, and Russell is right there with her. No comparable clichés in this film's depiction of the Toronto gay scene, a diverse yet claustrophobic enclave that places transvestites on the bottom of a depressingly rigid hierarchy - an economic threat to closeted hairdressers, stealth patriarchs to the second-wave dykes. At a time when cinematic queerness was synonymous with effete self-loathing, this sympathetic and detailed depiction of a complex, vital skid-row subculture was decades ahead of its time, and has real time-capsule value today. All of which to say is that they're far from just marking time between Russell's impersonations, which are definitive even if he did steal them from Mae West herself. Put the two together and you've got a film that synthesizes social engagement and entertainment value with almost unprecedented verve.
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