Review: In ‘Freak Show,’ the Boy Who Would be Homecoming Queen

Review: In ‘Freak Show,’ the Boy Who Would be Homecoming Queen
FREAK SHOW Directed by Trudie Styler Comedy, Drama 1h 35m

What can you say about an adolescent American boy who is able to accurately quote Oscar Wilde? You can call him precocious, but in the case of Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), who we first see quoting the Irish writer and dandy in a flashback recalling sunnier times in his childhood, that’s not enough.

Born into great wealth, the hero of “Freak Show” initially rhapsodizes to the audience about his mother (Bette Midler, going big in her scant screen time), whom he calls “Muv,” praising her as “a living testament to grace, glamour and Gucci.” Life with Muv was sweet, but after she enters rehab, Billy must reside at the mansion of his father (Larry Pine), who’s not happy about Billy’s rejection of conventional masculinity.

The kids at his new high school aren’t down with it either. Defiant, Billy wears Lady Gaga-style costumes to school, and is brutalized for his trouble. In his recovery, he forges an unlikely friendship with a football star (Ian Nelson). The movie finds its ostensible plot about an hour in, after Billy decides to compete with an evangelical classmate (Abigail Breslin) for the title of homecoming queen. Laverne Cox can’t do a whole lot in her perfunctory role as a local TV news reporter covering the homecoming queen competition.

Directed by Trudie Styler, making her fiction feature debut, “Freak Show” benefits from a vast array of talents both behind the camera (the cinematographer, for instance, is Dante Spinotti, a regular collaborator with Michael Mann) and in front of it. Mr. Lawther is sympathetic and appealing as Billy, but Ms. Styler seems to mistake broad strokes for stylistic daring, and her colorful but diffuse movie never jells.

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