All Dressed Up ...

Girls just wants to have fun, but doesn't always succeed

Just what is it with movies about men in dresses? Sometimes they're brilliant (Some Like It Hot, Tootsie), sometimes they're weird (Glenn or Glenda?, Flaming Creatures), sometimes they're utterly conventional (Charlie's Aunt, Mrs. Doubtfire), and sometimes they're truly "outside the box" (Trash, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). But whatever the instance, there's always a momentary frisson of potential taboo-breaking whenever a man dons a frock. That potential keeps the latest drag comedy, Girls Will Be Girls, bubbling along for much of its length -- but not quite across the finish line.

Written and directed by Richard Day (a television comedy veteran whose credits include The Larry Sanders Show, Mad About You, and Good Morning Miami), it stars a trio of extremely bright drag divas, two of whom have established careers in cabaret: Miss Coco Peru (a.k.a. Clinton Leupp), who has appeared in character in the likes of Trick and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar; and Varla Jean Merman (Jeffery Roberson), previously seen in the indie Franchesca Page. It's the third "girl," Jack Plotnick -- whose memorable turn as a flirty film student was one of the highlights of Gods and Monsters -- that's the relative rookie here, but he's up to the task. Suggesting a three-way cross between Ann B. Davis, Phyllis Diller, and the offscreen Lucille Ball, Plotnick dives into drag with considerable energy and enthusiasm.

And well he might, considering that his character, faded alcohol-and-controlled-substance-abusive former game-show star Evie Harris, is the film's central role. Living in candybox-colored semisplendor in a small ranch-style home somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, Evie is rather halfheartedly plotting a comeback. As her live-in companion, Coco Peru -- who's nursing personal heartbreaks of her own -- performs household duties in lieu of the rent. Consequently a boarder has been taken in to make ends meet.

Since newcomer Marla (Varla Jean/Jeffery) is a starry-eyed Hollywood hopeful in awe of Evie, one expects a little bit of the old Joseph L. Mankiewicz to come into view. But writer-director Day and his players set their sights considerably lower. There are vomit gags, penis gags, fart gags, even an extended abortion-cum-rape gag. Yet the film somehow never quite tips over into the sort of robust bad taste that made John Waters a household name. And not for want of trying.

A climactic scene, however, scores quite highly as a piece of direction. Jealous of Evie's efforts to restart her career via an infomercial, Coco slips her a "Mickey" of pills that, once combined with her usually excessive intake of alcohol, causes Evie to hallucinate wildly. Cutting between the reality of the TV studio and the fantasy of Evie's mind -- in which she's having a pool party for all her friends -- Day delivers something remarkably stylish, particularly in light of the film's low budget. In fact in many ways he achieves here what Down With Love strained to do with millions at its disposal.

Still one can't help but wish that these "girls" had something more to do than strike up Valley of the Dolls-type attitude without any juicy Valley of the Dolls-type scenes to back them up. No, this drag show doesn't become a drag, but it doesn't shatter any taboos either. It just toys with them in a manner which, while often diverting, never gets below the surface tinsel to get at what Oscar Levant so memorably called "the real tinsel underneath."

 
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