A queer teenager has to deal with moving to a Conservative high school.
Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) is a young, flamboyant, and proudly gay kid who was raised by his very dramatic alcoholic mother “Muv” (Bette Midler). He ends up getting sent to live with his father (Larry Pine) and his nanny (Lorraine Toussaint) after Muv goes to rehab. Unfortunately, the local high school is extremely conservative, and Billy is immediately labeled a “Freak.” Rather than being ashamed, Billy tries to be even more outlandish and outspoken, and even makes a friend in Mary Jane (AnnaSophia Robb) and a friend/ambiguous love interest in Flip Kelly (Ian Nelson), but ends up being the target of a beating. After he recovers, Billy decides that he wants to be the first male homecoming queen, to the chagrin of Lynette (Abigail Breslin), the queen bee of the school, and to the delight of local reporter Felicia (Laverne Cox).
This movie is so close to being great, but unfortunately only ends up at “good.” Lawther’s performance is fantastic, as you would expect if you’ve watched The End of the F***ing World. At one point he does a dramatic monologue as Zelda Fitzgerald that is so over the top that it seems like it should fail miserably… except that Lawther nails it. That’s basically how his role frequently feels in this movie. He’s written so over the top and so unrealistically self-aggrandizing that he doesn’t ever really ring true as a character, but somehow Lawther actually makes it work. It’s hard to make a character work when he’s constantly thinking about how much better he is than everyone, although the movie does make him inherently the underdog, and it’s even harder when the character seems so undeveloped. It’s not that Billy couldn’t be interesting, in fact much of what happens to him in the movie should be, it’s that he doesn’t really seem to grow at all during the course of the film. Maybe that’s supposed to reflect that he doesn’t need to change who he is, but we watch films to see a journey, and Billy doesn’t really go on one.
Similarly, we don’t really get the full impact of the journeys of any of the other people. Flip is depicted as a jock who is trying to figure out who he is, particularly given his interest in Billy and his love of culture, but we only get a little bit of that story because Flip also doesn’t seem to grow much. While having such static characters could work if everyone else in the film was changing, and the very end of the movie almost makes that point, it still feels like it only touches upon that theme. The movie seems more fixated on showing the glamorous side of Billy rather than his more human side.
Overall, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s only okay. I wouldn’t mess your hair up trying to get it on your watchlist.
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