Freak Show

Now, that’s what you call a Billy no mates.
Verdict: 
4/10 - There’s not an inch of subtlety in this film about bullying, discrimination and staying true to yourself.
Release Date: 
Friday, June 22, 2018
Written by: 

The fabulous Billy Bloom has had enough of the school bullies and decides to run for homecoming queen.

4

High school is no easy ride for anybody "different", and self-confessed "gender obliviator" Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) is a unicorn in a pack of mules.

The teen is the new kid at an ultraconservative institution and his flamboyant mannerisms, sequinned outfits and immaculate smoky eye make-up immediately ruffle feathers.

Bullying soon persists against the "queer" out to thrust "depravity" upon his peers, so Billy decides to fight back by putting his name in the running for homecoming queen.

Anybody that has seen Lawther's knockout performance in Channel 4's The End of the F**king World will know that he plays a brilliant teenage outsider.

He has great comedic delivery when Billy takes on his deplorable classmates, shows gravitas and depth during the emotional moments, and is zingy and larger than life when he dresses up in the most extravagant of outfits and can relish in his character's most eccentric past times.

Unfortunately, the film sounds like it should be more fun than it is, because while you expect the focus to be on Billy's homecoming queen mission, the bullying and his attempts to fit in dominate the story.

After being subjected to an awfully violent beating, you can't blame the guy for wanting to blend in and that in itself is not a bad thing.

But if this was supposed to be a film about the prejudices that exist within the school grounds, creativity and subtlety are desperately lacking in equal measure.

What we get is an extremely backwards American school full of languid caricatures that in no way resemble real people.

There's a trio of soulless mean girls and a group of aggressively macho alpha males - all villains we've seen a million times before, ranting and raving about gay people being the root of all evil.

It's a tired formula, and though some high school students out there could share these extreme opinions, few viewers will recognise these exchanges as examples of realistic human behaviour.

The characters close to Billy are similarly unbelievable. Nice-guy jock Flip (Ian Nelson) randomly befriends him and spends his spare time watching Billy play fancy dress in sparkly mermaid costumes and Uma Thurman's Pulp Fiction get-up.

Sure he might feel sorry for Billy, but what teenage boy would stop playing football and start playing John Travolta out of pity?

Then we have Muv (Bette Midler), Billy's estranged mother, who the writers seem to have created purely as a means of explaining away his unique character.

Did she let him wear her make-up as a kid? Check. Dance to show tunes with him? Check. Mastermind some of Billy's campest catchphrases? Check.

There is, however, a fun cameo from Laverne Cox who plays a reporter supporting Billy's plight, though it's a shame she wasn't given a more substantial role.

Taking all this into account, it's no surprise that the battle for homecoming queen is hugely anticlimactic and predictable.

Again, Lawther can't be faulted in his revelry upon Billy's glitzy campaign float and heartfelt - but corny - final speech. A terrific lead performance is let down by a lazy script and uninspired acting from everyone else involved.

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