While the late Patrick Swayze appeared in better known films, he never seemed to enjoy himself more than as drag queen Vida Boheme. When you think about it, it was quite the ballsy move for him. He was known for playing romantic leads in hits like Dirty Dancing and Ghost and for more masculine roles in films like Road House and Point Break, so donning a bouffant hairdo and high heels could have been career suicide, over fifteen years later, very few straight actors darn to play gay, let alone do a whole film in full on drag, but he felt he had to play Vida. Swayze landed the role after improvising a monologue about how he was bullied back in Texas for studying ballet. He knew what it was like to be hated when you’re just trying to be yourself and completely becomes Vida, who represents the proper upper class suburban world that rejected her. Wesley Snipes, known best at the time for roles in Major League and White Man Can’t Jump, is hilarious as Noxeema Jackson, Vida’s sassy rival in the drag queen world who dreams of becoming the next Dorothy Dandridge. The film was sort of a break-out vehicle for stand-up John Leguizamo who plays drag newcomer Chi-Chi Rodriguez, who struggles with fitting in both conventional society and the drag world.
Pageant winning drag queens Vida and Noxeema agree to take green novice Chi-Chi under their win, transforming her into a true drag queen during a cross-country roadtrip to the Drag Queen of America pageant. While on the road, they have an altercation with a handsy cop and are on the run after they think they’ve killed him. They stumble upon a quaint little town and while at first glance the locals are cultureless hicks, they soon bond and change each others’ lives in the process.
Each queen touches the town in their own way. Vida helps an abused wife (Stockard Channing) escape her brute of a husband. Noxeema finds an old woman who she lives apart from the rest of the town, but shares Noxeema’s love of old movies. While Chi-Ci is desperate to be accepted as a real woman, she helps two local kids find love. Together they give the town a make-over and in return, the town protects them when the cop they accosted finds them, and is bent on revealing them as the freaks he views them to be. Instead he is kicked out of town by an army of “drag queens”.
While there are some corny moments (there’s a “I’m Spartacus” scene which is one of my film pet peeves), it’s an amazingly quotable script with some amazing put-downs. It’s a fun pick for a Friday movie night.