Stage Mother

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Stage Mother
dir Thom Fitzgerald
scr Brad Hennig
prd J Todd Harris, Anne Clements, Brad Hennig, Laurie Kraus Lacob, Doug Pettigrew
with Jacki Weaver, Lucy Liu, Adrian Grenier, Mya Taylor, Allister MacDonald, Oscar Moreno, Jackie Beat, Lenore Zann, Hugh Thompson, Anthony Skordi, Eldon Thiele, Callum Dunphy
release US Jan.20 psiff,
UK 24.Jul.20
20/Canada 1h33

liu taylor macdonald

Watch it now...

weaver and grenier
There's plenty of colourful drag queen energy in this comedy-drama, but director Thom Fitzgerald keeps the tone introspective, adding thoughtful undercurrents and a big beating heart. It's fairly clear where the plot is heading, but it's beautifully played and has a superb sense of musicality. There are also some darker themes at work, including a never-pushy exploration of the impact of casual sex and drugs on the gay scene.
In rural Texas, choir director Maybelline (Weaver) is devastated to hear her gay son Rickey (Thiele) has died from a drug overdose. Against the wishes of her close-minded husband Jeb (Thompson), she goes to Rickey's funeral in San Francisco. Overwhelmed by the emotional outpouring of his drag family, she reaches out to his bitter ex Nathan (Grenier) and best friend Sienna (Liu), who had hoped to raise her baby with Rickey. Maybelline also discovers that Rickey owned the failing drag bar where he performed. So she decides to help bring it back to life.
Some of the story conflicts are oddly contrived, such as Nathan's awkwardly strained antagonism. Jeb's harshness is more recognisably real, as are the complex reactions of Maybelline's sister Bevette (Zann). But the narrative has enough engaging momentum without these battles, and it thankfully moves on to more authentic connections. It's fun to watch these people come together to revamp the club, and when Maybelline coaches queens Cherry, Joan and Tequila (Taylor, MacDonald and Moreno) to sing instead of lipsync, everything kicks up a gear.

Weaver is terrific, channelling Dolly Parton as a woman who becomes a fierce LGBT ally simply because she sees the humanity in absolutely everyone. Even if she seems miraculously able to solve each issue, it's a warm, openhanded performance that comes to blazing life opposite the other actors, each of whom gets a proper emotional subplot of his or her own. While Liu shines in an against-type role, and MacDonald's journey is powerful, the scene-stealer is the fabulous Taylor.

So while the narrative develops pretty much along the expected lines, there are potent scenes scattered all the way through, plus lots of crowd-pleasingly camp flourishes. The most powerful kicks come in Maybelline's clashes with her bigoted husband, and also in her attempts to help Joan: "Nobody intervened for my son, but I'm intervening for you." Yes, it's Maybelline's journey that pulls the audience in, celebrating the power of love. And the big finale brings a proper emotional gut punch.

cert 15 themes, language 13.Jun.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall