Freak Show
dir Trudie Styler
scr Patrick J Clifton, Beth Rigazio
prd Jeffrey Coulter, Chris Miller, Bryan Rabin, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Ember Truesdell, Charlotte Ubben
with Alex Lawther, Ian Nelson, Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb, Bette Midler, Larry Pine, Celia Weston, Walden Hudson, Daniel Bellomy, Laverne Cox, John McEnroe, Mickey Sumner
release US 12.Jan.18, UK 22.Jun.18
17/US 1h33
Freak Show
A distinct sense of style: Lowther

breslin robb midler
flare film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Freak Show While it might be a bit arch, pushing to make its point, this film has such a strong message about identity that it's both powerfully moving and deeply important. Anchored by an offbeat, beautifully textured performance from Alex Lawther, it's a story about a colourful teen who simply refuses to fit in at his high school, which leads to both triumphs and serious challenges. And it's gorgeously shot by Dante Spinotti.

Moving to live with his father (Pine) in a fiercely conservative community, Billy (Lawther) refuses to suppress the wildly artistic persona he cultivated with his beloved diva mother (Midler). But the students at his new school think he's a bit much. The head cheerleader (Breslin) and the cool boys (Bellomy and Hudson) bully him mercilessly, then turn violent when he refuses to give in. But he's befriended by an offbeat girl (Robb) as well as football star Flip (Nelson), who has his own reasons for hanging out with the defiantly independent Billy.

Based on the James St James novel, the story has a book-like scope, weaving through an epic series of events from a coma-inducing homophobic attack to Billy's decision to run for homecoming queen. The level of detail in the plot strands sometimes feels distracting, but the through story of this young man working out how to express himself holds the attention, especially with such a bold performance from Lawther.

This young actor continually takes risks, and Billy is a character who requires total commitment. Lawther never winks at the camera (even when he's winking at the camera), because Billy certainly isn't a joke to himself. His outrageous outfits and behaviour may be an expression of his insecurity, but they're also a glimpse into his soul. And the cast around him is equally fascinating, with Nelson providing some nicely layered chemistry.

Thankfully, the plot never takes the easy, obvious route through this subject matter. This isn't a film about a teen coming out or grappling with his sexuality. It's not even about the bigotry and prejudice that he experiences in both casual and horrific ways. And it certainly isn't a romantic comedy. Although aspects of all of these themes are in here, the central point is about creativity and expression. We may not be as fabulous as Billy, but we know what it's like to hide what we know are the best parts of ourselves.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 29.Mar.18 flare

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall