The National Student
Freak Show review -an unapologetic celebration of self-identity
Charlotte Hunt at Southampton, University of 28th June 2018
Verdict: “If life kicks you, you just kick higher” – a film for those struggling to find their place.In an unapologetic celebration of individuality and identity, Freak Show delivers a highly relevant message in today’s society.
The film follows genderqueer teenager Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) as he navigates his way through a new, conservative High School. Along the way, Bloom encounters the cut-throat reality of unaccepting high school culture and decides to run for homecoming queen in defiance of those against him.Freak Show’s biggest strength is its central character and the undeniably passionate performance given by Alex Lawther. Known for his other roles as Billy Moon (Goodbye Christopher Robin), a young Alex Turing (The Imitation Game) and self-proclaimed psychopath James (The End of the F***cking World), Lawther once again steps into an ‘outcast’ type role, but by no means gives the same performance.Rather, his emotional and eccentric transformation into Billy Bloom proves his versatility and ability to dominate the screen regardless of who he is working alongside of – even the likes of Bette Midler – cementing himself well and truly within the surge of fresh new talent emerging in the industry.
Likewise, the character of Billy Bloom will no doubt become a modern emblem of self-identity as he refuses to conform to the societal norms so prevalent in his conservative high school. It is his individuality in a sea of students begging to fit in that makes him so inspiring. From the off, an intimate and personal voice-over gives the viewer an exclusive insight into his world; one that he carries the audience through with ease, at least in terms of narrative structure. The film itself however, is by no means ‘easy viewing’.Freak Show tackles many important but challenging themes throughout its duration including issues of hate crime, the ignorance of, and intolerance towards the LGBTQ community, and broken family relationships, to name but a few. It approaches these topics through its expressive cinematography that does almost as much speaking as the characters themselves.Through choreographed character movements and beautiful juxtapositions, the film is both brutally honest and comedic – finding that balance very well. For the most part, this allows Billy’s journey to take a realistic path. He encounters highs and lows like any teenager does, giving the film an air of relatability, but the film also ensures it remains focused on the prejudice he faces for his non-conforming self-expression.These themes are slightly weakened by the film’s typically ‘feel good’ teen narrative that, at points, does become cliche and predictable. This predictability comes as a result of both an archetypal narrative structure, but also the scarier reality of how common stories like this – ones of LGBTQ hatred and intolerance – are, even in modern society. This narrative structure does, however, allow a high level of accessibility to an array of audience members so that although one may argue it takes an easy approach to challenging themes, it does allow the film’s message to be heard by a wider audience.Despite its predictable and somewhat cliche narrative, Freak Show teaches that being yourself and fitting in are never synonymous and that, to be truly happy, the former is the only option.