Tag Archives: Alex Lawther

Friday, July 20, 2018

Vote for the best drama movies of 2018; Currently Bette Midler’s “Freak Show” is #5 out of 60

Mister D: So far only about 500 people have voted on this list and Freak Show is starting out in great shape. Let’s keep her in the spotlight. Make sure to go to Ranker and sign up. It’s easy. Then head on over and Click Here to vote. Freak Show Poster Ranker Vote for the best drama movies of 2018… July 14, 2018

Vote for the best drama movies of 2018.

Whether they’re about historical events or fictional stories of romance, tension, and love, the best drama movies of 2018 left viewers inspired and emotional. What were the best drama movies this year? Help decide below. Featuring romantic dramas, coming-of-age movies, biopics, and comedy-dramas, this list of good 2018 shows includes 12 StrongChappaquiddickLean on Pete, and Permission. Good drama films usually feature compelling characters and intriguing storylines, avoiding melodrama in favor of more realistic plot lines and complicated protagonists. Which drama movies of 2018 fit such a description? Vote on this list of 2018 drama movies. Give an up vote to the best drama movies of 2018 and down vote anything you feel is overrated or downright bad.


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12 Strong Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña12 Strong (also known as 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers) is a 2018 American war drama film directed by Nicolai Fuglsig. Following the September 11 attacks, Task…more


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Forever My Girl Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey Forever My Girl is a 2018 romantic drama film directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf. After being gone for a decade, a country star (Alex Roe) returns home to the love (Jessica Rothe) he left behind.


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Thoroughbreds Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin Thoroughbreds is a 2018 American drama thriller film directed by Cory Finley. After years of growing apart, upper-class teenagers Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) rekindle their …more


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Final Portrait Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy Final Portrait is a 2017 British-American drama film directed by Stanley Tucci. In Paris 1964, famed painter Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) asks James Lord (Armie Hammer), the American…more


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Freak Show Alex Lawther, Abigail Breslin, Bette Midler Freak Show is a 2018 American drama film directed by Trudie Styler, based on the novel by James St. James. Despite attending an ultra-conservative high school, Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) decides…more


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The Strange Ones Alex Pettyfer, James Freedson-Jackson, Emily Althaus Strange Ones is a 2017 American drama film directed by Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein. Mysterious events surround two travelers as they make their way across a remote American …more


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Nostalgia Jon Hamm, Nick Offerman, Amber Tamblyn Nostalgia is a 2018 American drama film directed by Mark Pellington. A group of people is connected through a loss.


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The 15:17 to Paris Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone The 15:17 to Paris is a 2018 American biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood, based on the 2015 Thalys train attack. Three Americans (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek …more


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First Reformed Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer First Reformed is a 2017 American drama thriller film directed by Paul Schrader. Grieving over the death of his son, an ex-military chaplain (Ethan Hawke) is further challenged when a young …more


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Leave No Trace Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeff Kober Leave No Trace is a 2018 American film directed by Debra Granik, based on the book My Abandonment by Peter Rock. A father (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) are living …more


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Every Day Angourie Rice, Maria Bello, Debby Ryan Every Day is a 2018 American romantic-drama directed by Michael Sucsy, based on the novel by David Levithan. 16-year-old Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) falls in love with a spirit named A, a traveling…more


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Disobedience Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola Disobedience is a 2017 British-Irish-American drama film directed by Sebastián Lelio, based on the novel by Noami Alderman. A woman (Rachel Weisz) returns to her Orthodox Jewish home …more


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Eighth Grade Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson Eighth Grade is a 2018 American comedy film directed by Bo Burnham. An eighth grader (Elsie Fisher) struggles to finish her last week of classes before embarking for high school.


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The Rider Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau The Rider is a 2017 American drama film directed by Chloé Zhao. After suffering a near-fatal head injury, a young cowboy (Brady Jandreau) undertakes a search for a new identity and what it …more


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Breath Simon Baker, Elizabeth Debicki, Samson CoulterBreath is a 2018 drama film directed by Simon Baker, based on the novel by Tim Winton. Two teenage boys form an unlikely connection with an older surfer (Simon Baker).


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Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Jonah Hill Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a 2018 American drama film directed by Gus Van Sant, based on the memoir by John Callahan. After nearly losing his life in a car accident, a slacker…more


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Shock and Awe Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, James Marsden Shock, and Awe is a 2017 American drama film directed by Rob Reiner. Journalists investigate the assertions by the Bush Administration concerning Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of …more


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A Fantastic Woman Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco A Fantastic Woman is a 2017 Chilean drama film directed by Sebastián Lelio. Marina (Daniela Vega), a waitress who moonlights as a nightclub singer, is bowled over by the death of her …more


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Lean on Pete Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel Lean on Pete is a 2017 British drama film directed by Andrew Haigh, based on the novel by Willy Vlautin. A teenager (Charlie Plummer) gets a summer job working for a horse trainer and befriends…more


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The Catcher Was a Spy  ...  Read More

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Uk – Review: Freak Show review -an unapologetic celebration of self-identity 4 out 5 stars

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.
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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June Pride Month – Freak Show, The Movie, Gets Blu-Ray DVD Release – Alex Lawther. Bette Midler

No Reruns.net Freak Show Review By Kyle Nolan June 5, 2018 Bette Midler, Blue Pantsuit, Freak Show June is Pride Month, and to help celebrate, Shout! Factory and IFC Films have released the new teen dramedy Freak Show on Blu-ray & DVD. Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther, The End of the F***ing World, Howard’s End) isn’t like most other teenagers. He likes to glam things up, putting on wigs, dressing up in women’s clothes, and decking himself out in beads and feathers. When he was a child, Billy’s parents were constantly arguing, and eventually split up. The 7 years that followed were some of the happiest of Billy’s life. He spent all his time with his best friend, his Muv (Bette Midler). The two of them always had a grand time, dressing up and dancing. However, this came to a sudden end when his mother suddenly dropped him off at his father’s family estate while she headed off to some unknown destintion. Billy hardly knew anything about his “Daddy Downer” (Larry Pine, House of Cards), except that he didn’t approve of Billy’s lifestyle, and that Billy was not the son that he had always dreamed of having. Billy doesn’t really make a good first impression at his new school—as he walks down the halls dressed like a 1980s Boy George, he is met with stares and constant pointing, and everyone seems to have his or her phone out filming the freak show. Billy becomes the target of ridicule, a constant barrage of spitballs, and even violence, but his father doesn’t really have any sympathy, telling Billy that “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. Billy wants to leave town—while he’s been hated at school before, it’s never been by everyone. However, Billy soon meets a girl in the library (AnnaSophia Robb, Mercy Street, The Carrie Diaries) who fills him in on all the school gossip, and the two quickly become friends. He also strikes up an unlikely friendship with star football player Flip Kelly (Ian Nelson, There’s… Johnny!)—it was love at first sight when Billy first cast his eyes on Flip, even though Billy knows the feelings are one-sided. Despite making a couple of friends, Billy continues to struggle to fit in, and decides that he is going to shake things up by running for prom queen, against ultra-conservative/religious mean girl Lynette (Abigail Breslin, Scream Queens). I was first interested in checking out this movie when I saw that the lead was played by Alex Lawther. I had first seen him in the recent Netflix series The End of the F***ing World, and was really impressed with his work. Once again, Lawther completely commits himself to his role—this time an eccentric teenager who is happiest when he can just be free to be himself and dress and act the way he wants. Billy Bloom is an interesting character—sometimes I found him charming and interesting, while other times irritating and entitled. I found myself torn between being happy that he was being himself, but also wondering why he wouldn’t just tone down his attitude or way of dressing if it would make things easier for him at school. The film does explore this to some degree. When Billy is dressed in “normal” clothes, there’s definitely a spark that seems to be gone, but when he’s dressed up as say Zelda Fitzgerald while doing a book report in front of the class, he just comes to life. His attitude and way he dresses is a core part of him, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice that by pretending he’s something he’s not. I quite enjoyed some of the relationships in the film, especially the one between Billy and Trip. At first it seems like these two come from completely different worlds, but they share a common background of their fathers wanting them to be people they aren’t. The friendship they have is completely platonic, but still loving and supportive. I also enjoyed the relationship underappreciated housekeeper Florence (Celia Weston) has with both Billy and his father. She’s always there to listen to problems and talk some sense into these men. While the film does touch on some more serious topics such as bullying, hate speech and alcoholism, it does so at a very artificial level, and doesn’t get serious enough to really show the dangerous consequences of these. The film is in this middle area where it isn’t constantly laugh out loud funny (though it has its moments), or deadly serious. It tries to ride the line between the two, with varying degrees of success. The movie is basically broken into three distinct acts. In the first act, Billy is displaced from his fully-accepting household with his mother, and placed in a new, more conservative setting where he doesn’t fit in, and starts to face ridicule and verbal and physical abuse. In the second act, Billy opens up more and starts to experience moments of happiness and joy, but a couple of betrayals bring his world crashing down once again. And in the final act, Billy is reborn, finding and reclaiming a strength he didn’t know he had. Overall, Freak Show is an uplifting and sometimes funny story about just being one’s self without worrying what others think. It also features cameos from Laverne Cox as a reporter doing a story on the prom queen race, and John McEnroe as the school’s gym coach. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release provides picture that is, for the most part, clean and detailed, though occasionally some colors look slightly washed out. The audio track provides clear dialogue, and the surround channel is used effectively, such as in scenes where crowds are cheering and clapping during school assemblies. Unfortunately, the only bonus feature included on the disc is the film’s trailer. The disc comes packed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. Blu-Ray DVD: What’s Included: Film: (1:30:58) 1080p / Widescreen 2.40:1 Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Surround, English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo Subtitles: English, Spanish Extras: Trailer (2:03) Final Thoughts: Overall, Freak Show is an entertaining film, with some great performances, but it seems a bit confused as to what tone it is aiming for. While the trailer seems to promote a comedy—and there are many funny moments—the film itself is more of a dramedy. It touches on some more serious topics, but glosses over the consequences of these. While the overall message of the film is positive, I think it could have been even more effective had it conveyed a little more of seriousness of the attacks on Billy (or just left this part out completely if it was going for a straight-up comedy). Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release provides a solid presentation but lacks any bonus material. Due to this, I would suggest a rental before a blind buy.
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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Shout! Factory Releasing ‘Freak Show’ on DVD June 5

Media Play News Shout! Factory Releasing ‘Freak Show’ on Disc June 5 JOHN LATCHER May 7, 2018 Freak Show, DVD Shout! Factory and IFC Films will release the coming-of-age drama Freak Show on Blu-ray and DVD June 5. The directorial debut of actress and producer Trudie Styler, Freak Show stars Alex Lawther, Bette Midler, Larry Pine, Abigail Breslin, Laverne Cox and AnnaSophia Robb. Lawther plays Billy Bloom, a gender-bending teenager who feels like a fish out of water at a conservative high school.

Blu-Ray DVD:

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Trudie Styler’s Freak Show starring Alex Lawther & Bette Midler gets a UK release date

Entertainment Focus Trudie Styler’s Freak Show starring Alex Lawther & Bette Midler gets a UK release date JASON PALMER August 29, 2018 Trudie Styler’s directorial debut Freak Show, starring Alex Lawther, AnnaSophia Robb, Abigail Breslin and Bette Midler gets a UK release date set. Based on the award-winning cult novel by James St James and rumoured to be in the same vein as Clueless and Napoleon Dynamite, Freak Show tells the moving, heart-breaking and hilarious story of Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther). Billy is a boldly confident and eccentric teenager who faces intolerance and persecution at his ultra conservative high school, and decides to fight back on behalf of all the misunderstood freaks of the world. Trudie Styler’s directorial bow Freak Show stars Alex Lawther (Ghost Stories) alongside Abigail Breslin, Bette Midler, Larry Pine, John McEnroe (Borg v McEnroe), AnnaSophia Robb and Laverne Cox and comes to cinemas across the UK and on demand on 22nd June through Maven Pictures. Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), once lived a fabulous life in Connecticut, with his equally fabulous mother, MUV (Bette Midler). But when he is suddenly shipped off to his father’s (Larry Pine) Southern mansion, he finds himself a fish out of water. With his closet of extravagant and flamboyant attire, Billy is completely different from the cheerleaders, bible belles and beefy quarterbacks at his new high school. Yet despite the well-meant advice of his father and his housekeeper Florence (Celia Weston) that he should just throw on some blue jeans, Billy is determined to be himself – even if that does mean wearing face glitter to school. A rising British star, Alex Lawther won the London Film Critics’ Circle Award for “Young British Performer of the Year” for his role as the young Alan Turing in the Oscar-Winning film The Imitation Game (2014). Most recently, he was seen in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror (2016), alongside Domnall Gleeson in Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017), and is currently the lead on the wildly popular Netflix Original show The End of the F***ing World (2017). Trudie Styler is an actress, film producer and director. She is married to music legend Sting. In 2011, she formed Maven Pictures with Celine Rattray. The company’s production credits include the award-winning Filth (2013) and Still Alice (2014); American Honey (2016) which won the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival; and The Kindergarten Teacher (2018), which won the Directing Award for Sara Colangelo at Sundance 2018. Freak Show is her feature directorial debut, premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival and receiving its UK premiere at BFI Flare earlier this year.  
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Thursday, February 1, 2018

‘Freak Show’ movie review: If John Hughes were alive today …

Times Picayune ‘Freak Show’ movie review: If John Hughes were alive today … Updated Jan 30, 9:41 AM; Posted Jan 30, 9:41 AM Ask anyone who was a teenager in the 1980s, and they’ll tell you that if one filmmaker more than any other seemed to be speaking directly to them, it was John Hughes. The maker of such films as “The Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — while perhaps not a technical master of the filmmaking arts — knew a whole lot about how to talk to kids. His movies were often-silly comedies, but beneath the jokes they were grounded in reality and compassion, honestly capturing the angst of growing up (not to mention the absurdity of adulthood) without ever condescending to their pimply faced target audiences. Hughes died in 2009, but if he were alive today and still making movies, one has to think he would probably be making movies like “Freak Show.” A look a movie, TV projects shooting or preparing to shoot in town. An indie teen comedy, it’s a touch rough around the edges from a technical standpoint, and its characters are, for the most part, fairly one-dimensional. But director Trudie Styler’s film manages to zoom in on the trials and tribulations of the American teenage experience in a way that feels reminiscent of Hughes’ work. Even the film’s setup sounds Hughesian: Thanks to a decision by his beloved but troubled mother (played in a small role by Bette Midler), a teenage misfit named Billy Bloom is forced to go to a new school in a small town where almost no one appreciates his off-the-charts level of fabulousness. “I’ve been hated before,” the vamp-prone Billy says in a voiceover, “but I’ve never been hated by everyone before.” His mother, however, has a saying: When they kick you, you just kick higher. So, to teach his classmates a bit about tolerance, acceptance and the value of originality, he decides to run for homecoming queen. Granted, you’ll probably be able to predict many of the film’s major plot points before they happen, but Styler’s film — while indulging in its share of teenage cliches — never feels stale. Part of that is the film’s message, which is very much a part of the current zeitgeist. Even more, though, is the lead performance of Alex Lawther, who is nothing short of a revelation in “Freak Show.” If you recognize Lawther, it’s probably from “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (in which he played the older Christopher Robin), “The Imitation Game” (in which he played the young Alan Turing) or “Black Mirror” (in which he plays a blackmailed teen). After “Freak Show,” however, you won’t just recognize Lawther. You’ll remember his name. He is that good, filling not just the role but every square inch of the movie screen as the film’s flamboyant, bedazzled and unapologetic teen queen. The best part is that Lawther, smartly, does it all without a trace of irony or meanness. We’re not meant to laugh at Billy. We’re meant to appreciate him and his daring sense of originality — and to pump our fist in solidarity for him when the time comes. Simply, Lawther nails it. He’s also the best reason to go see “Freak Show.” It might not be a John Hughes movie, but Styler makes it feel like it could be one — and Lawther makes Billy Bloom feel as if he’d be right at home alongside Ferris Bueller, Farmer Ted, Duckie Dale and other denizens of the Hughes universe. _____________ FREAK SHOW 3 stars, out of 5 Snapshot: A teen comedy about an unapologetically flamboyant boy who decides to teach his classmates a lesson in tolerance by running for homecoming queen. What works: The young Alex Lawther is tremendous in the lead role, with a tour de force performance that announces him as a talent to watch. What doesn’t: The story has its familiar elements, and its characters tend to be one-dimensional. Cast: Lawther, Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb, Ian Nelson, Willa Fitzgerald, Bette Midler. Director: Trudie Styler. Rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. Where: Opens Friday (Feb. 2) at the Chalmette Movies.
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Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Powerful Film Is Putting The Struggles Of A Genderfluid Teen Front And Center

Huffington Post A Powerful Film Is Putting The Struggles Of A Genderfluid Teen Front And Center By James Michael Nichols 01/26/2018 04:35 pm ET A new film from director Trudie Styler is placing the story of a genderfluid teen in the limelight and humanizing the struggles of young people living outside of binary notions of gender. “Freakshow” tells the fictional story of Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther). Billy is a young, queer teen who suddenly has to deal with the painful realities of a quintessential American high school after his mother (Bette Midler) pushes the responsibility for his well-being onto her husband (Larry Pine) years after their divorce. Bloom, who enjoys dressing up and presenting his gender nontraditionally, is forced to find a way to live at his new ultra-conservative high school ? and ultimately decides to run for homecoming queen against one of his biggest bullies, Lynette (Abigal Breslin). “Freakshow” is based on a book of the same name by James St. James, of “Party Monster” and Club Kid culture fame. St. James told HuffPost he hopes the film contributes to a larger conversation about the bullying that queer and genderfluid kids face every day in schools all across America. “The book was written almost 10 years ago, long before the subject of LGBTQ bullying was a national dialogue, and long before LGTBTQ teens were actually running for ? and becoming! ? prom queens and homecoming queens,” St. James told HuffPost. “In that way, it’s ahead of its time. And, in a way, I’m glad that it took so long to make. The themes of bullying feel more relevant now in Trump’s America than they did back then. I hope the movie furthers the discussion of bullying and the acceptance of the genderqueer and genderfluid kids out there who are defiantly making an impact and getting their voices heard.”
Alex Lawther as Billy Bloom.
The film also tackles another important topic: the bonds between queer youth and their straight peers, and how precious these relationships can feel. The central relationship in the film is the one between Bloom and his best friend Flip ? a straight jock whose kindness and compassion literally save Bloom’s life at one point. “The characters of Billy and Flip could not be more different, and yet they find a commonality,” St. James said. “They bond and form a friendship that they both learn from and both grow because of it … This story feels modern in that it focuses on two boys, one gay one straight, and how they form a powerful lifelong bond based on mutual respect. I hope kids can learn from that.” “Freakshow” is now playing in select cities and through video on demand.
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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

“Freak Show” – the tale of a boy who would be queen; Midler provides a strong presence

Los Angeles Blade “Freak Show” – the tale of a boy who would be queen January 22, 2018 at 7:28 pm PST | by John Paul King Not so long ago, there was a tremendous need for movies that told the stories of LGBTQ young people. The need is still there, of course; but in recent years, as queer moviemakers have emerged from the shadows of a cultural landscape that had long suppressed them, we have seen a bountiful crop of such films. The latest is “Freak Show,” the directorial feature debut of Trudie Styler. Adapted by screenwriters Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio, from the book of the same name by James St. James, it’s the story of a fabulously non-conforming teen-ager named Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther). Raised under the sheltering wing of his glamorous and supportive mother (Bette Midler), Billy has grown up comfortable in his own gender-bending skin; but when she sends him to stay with his no-nonsense father (Larry Pine), he finds himself thrust into the deeply oppressive world of an ultra-conservative high school where his confrontationally androgynous fashion sense and ever-ready Oscar Wilde quips are not only out-of-place, but dangerously unwelcome. Though he’s not without allies (including, surprisingly, “Flip,” the popular quarterback of the football team) – he finds himself the target of relentless ridicule and bullying. Making a stand against the school’s power elite, he declares his candidacy for the coveted title of homecoming queen – drawing the ire of head cheerleader and “queen bee,” Lynette. It’s a story ripped right out of the pages of any number of small town newspapers; there have been countless real-life iterations of this tale, and in our current era of emboldened homophobia there will doubtless be many more. Despite its relevance to modern times, though, “Freak Show” comes across as oddly dated, even a bit nostalgic. It may be the movie’s tone; reminiscent of a John Hughes-esque teen adventure from the eighties, in which the painful politics of high school life provide the backdrop for a heart-tugging saga of youthful self-actualization, it feels like the product of a bygone era. It might also be that, in the still-churning wake of the 2016 election, the premise of the film – that proud self-expression is enough to overcome ignorance and bigotry within a culture where it thrives – feels a little naïve, like a painful reminder of a dream that, while perhaps not crushed, has certainly been deferred. It may also simply be a function of the script; though Clifton and Rigazio hit all their marks, the execution is a bit clunky and more than a little slavish to formula. Revelations are too predictable, reconciliations too easy, resolutions too perfunctory – it all seems to be taken by rote, and consequently it feels like something we’ve seen before. Likewise, Styles direction, polished as it may be, does little to inject freshness. She provides a safe, standard cinematic structure for the story; and when flights of fancy are called for, though she delivers them with style and flash, they never quite connect us with the kind of visceral human experience that would make them truly relatable. One standout exception comes with the harrowing sequence – brilliantly accompanied by the defiantly brash Perfume Genius song, “Queen” — in which Billy, dressed like a ghost bride at a midnight wedding, is savagely attacked by a gang of masked bullies. It’s suitable that this moment should be delivered with such potency – but one can’t help but wish the rest of the film vibrated with more of that same creative vision. That doesn’t mean there is nothing here to surprise or delight us – indeed, St. James’ original story has a powerful voice and a lot of heart, both of which come through in the little moments that pave the way between the “big events” of the story – and especially through its charismatic hero. Billy is bigger than life and twice as fierce, a character that demands an actor up to the task of bringing him to life. Lawther is a perfect match for the part; he exudes the blend of confidence and fragility needed to make his journey believable, embraces the high theatricality of his personality, and infuses him with the humanity that allows us to love him. It’s a performance that would shine in any film; in “Freak Show,” it positively glows. There are some nice turns from the rest of the cast, too, though they have less to work with. Midler, in what amounts to little more than a cameo, is an appropriately strong presence as Billy’s mother; it’s hard to imagine a less on-the-nose choice of actress for the role. Also notable is the less showy Celia Weston, who, as dad’s longtime housekeeper, provides a more down-to-earth kind of nurturing presence for Billy. Nelson is likable but unremarkable as Flip, and Breslin delivers a sly caricature of toxic femininity as Lynette. Lastly, there is a much-appreciated appearance by Lavern Cox as a news reporter who comes to interview the candidates in the controversial homecoming campaign. It’s obvious that “Freak Show” is a project undertaken with a strong sense of purpose. Its message of empowerment – not just for queer young people, but for all those who are marginalized by the cookie-cutter ideal of conformity that pervades our society – is presented with sincerity and conviction, no matter how clumsily it may sometimes be delivered. It addresses the issue of bullying with unflinching honesty. It promotes the ideal of a diverse and inclusive society, while still extending compassion – mostly – to those who have not yet evolved enough to embrace it. With such good intentions behind it, one can’t help but wonder how great a film this might have been with a more expert set of hands to guide it to the screen. That, of course, will be a moot point to the movie’s target audience; LGBTQ teens, thirsty for a story and characters that reflect their own experiences, will be unburdened by comparisons to older material or quibbles about cinematic structure. For them, the story of Billy Bloom is likely to be a wonderful thing, and rightly so. “Freak Show” may not be a great film, but it’s a good movie; and for a world badly in need of its message of acceptance, that’s good enough.
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

In This ‘Freak Show,’ Conformity Is The Real Bully

WBUR In This ‘Freak Show,’ Conformity Is The Real Bully January 11, 2018 Scott Tobias The funniest throwaway moment in Freak Show, an unsteady coming-of-age fantasy, finds Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), a gay teenager with a penchant for sequins and feather boas, introducing himself to his new classmates at a private school somewhere in the Deep South. Oblivious to the camera phones and snickers that have already sent a hostile signal, Billy stands up in front of his biology class and announces that he’s transferring from Darien, Connecticut, “the hometown of Chloë Sevigny.” He fully expects they will know and appreciate the reference, and perhaps chat him up later about Sevigny’s eclectic career as a cult actress and fashion icon. Adapted from James St. James’ YA novel, Freak Show treats Billy’s obliviousness as tragicomedy, as a kid who often delights in the fabulous, candy-colored world of his imagination but smarts from the cruelty of those outside of it. He has the jump on his peers because he’s knows who he is, but their own adolescent uncertainties and insecurities are weaponized against him. It’s never easy being “the other,” but it’s never worse than high school, where peer pressure can marshal entire swaths of the student body against you. The real question in the film is whether Billy will conform to the academy or the academy will conform to him. His odds in that fight aren’t as long as they seem. Making her directorial debut after a career producing notable indie breakthroughs like Moon, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Trudie Stylar isn’t interested in examining Billy’s cloistered perspective so much as seeing the world through it. That doesn’t entirely forgive the stereotypes and clichés that populate the film, but it does explain how a young man so estranged from other kids can flatten them out in his mind. There are times when Freak Show seems like a high school film repurposed from other high school films, rather than an authentic vision of life outside Chloë Sevigny’s hometown. Unexamined wealth is a factor. In the omnipresent voiceover narration, Billy recalls a childhood where his glamorous, cocktail-sipping mother, played with a wink by Bette Midler, served as his ally and co-conspirator while his conservative, ultra-rich father William (Larry Pine) existed mainly to throw cold water on their fun. He’s discover the truth is more complicated, but until then, it’s his father’s money and his mother’s encouragement that allows him to flourish as the cross-dressing, Oscar Wilde-quoting, sports-averse wildflower he is. When he’s suddenly shipped South to live with his now-single father under mysterious circumstances, it’s the first time anyone forces him to question who he is. After that initial blast of disdain leads to a daily gauntlet of spitballs and the more serious specter of violence, Billy does find a couple of allies in a cheerful gossip (AnnaSophia Robb) whose name he can never remember and in Flip (Ian Kelly), the school’s star quarterback, who harbors a secret passion for comic books and abstract expressionist painters. Flip advises Billy to “tone down” his look and behavior in order to protect himself and Billy obliges, mostly because he has a crush on Flip. His friendship with Flip buys him a certain period of acceptance, but he throws himself into controversy again when he decides to run for Homecoming Queen against Lynette (Abigail Breslin), a Bible-thumping mean girl who’s unwavering in her odious homophobia. Though Flip’s trajectory is as predictable as everyone else’s in Freak Show —this is the type of film where the biggest bully is the obvious closet case — his character at least has a little dimension, because he has to negotiate between being the most popular guy in school and spending his social currency on its resident outcast. When he expresses admiration for the freedom Billy has to do whatever he pleases, the film’s message starts to surface: Freak Show isn’t just about the virtues of tolerance, but the importance of allowing everyone the space to be themselves. Teenagers have a tendency to enforce conformity on the outside while suppressing the inner desires that might get them shunned. Stylar approaches the story with a bright, hyper-real style that’s seductive at times — Dante Spinotti, the veteran cinematographer of Heat and L.A. Confidential, drops the glitter bomb here — but too often exposes the thinness of the characters, who are as fussily arranged as Billy’s wardrobe closet. Stylar and her screenwriters, Beth Rigazio and Patrick J. Clifton, never suggest they have lives independent of Billy’s self-actualization, which undermines the point about everyone needing to celebrate their uniqueness. It winds up being an exclusive plea for inclusion.
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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Trudie Styler’s ‘Freak Show’ Is a Laudable Plea for Tolerance; Midler Gives Rich Performance

The Observer Trudie Styler’s ‘Freak Show’ Is a Laudable Plea for Tolerance By Rex Reed • 01/12/18 12:45pm The hot-button topic of gender transfer, not always neatly accomplished by anything as simple as surgery, is addressed, re-dressed and undressed in Freak Show, about an unconventional teenager who has no interest in being a boy, or in acting out any of the socially accepted behavior connected with being normal, whatever that is. He would rather wear zombie mascara, bridal veils and pomegranate lipstick than baseball caps and Wrangler jeans, and the movie follows him through episodes both harrowing and hilarious to declare his independence. The results are a mixed bag of charm and calamity, marking the feature-length directorial debut of Trudie Styler who, in real life, is the wife of singing star Sting. She’s a talent worth watching. Encouraged in adolescence by his bosomy, vodka-swigging, self-indulgent mother (a small but rich performance by Bette Midler), Billy quotes Oscar Wilde and drifts easily into the kind of swishy son for whom his disillusioned father slowly abandons hope. Delighted when his parents split, Billy and his mom become soul mates for seven glorious years, but when she disappears one day into rehab hell, the boy confiscates her gowns, shoes and gaudy makeup, and moves with his father (Larry Pine) from Darien to a fresh hell of his own in a hostile red state where he shows up on the first day of high school dressed like Marilyn Monroe. The girls pepper him with spitballs and the boys beat the crap out of him, landing Billy in the hospital. He is, to put politely, not only unconventional but freaky enough to make Boy George look like a heavyweight boxing champion at Madison Square Garden. Played with a brave blend of wide-eyed sweetness and uncompromising conviction, Alex Lawther makes a sympathetic, self-proclaimed sissy. I mean, you gotta shake your head and laugh at the same time when, in the hospital, covered with abrasions and suffering from contusions, concussions and internal hemorrhaging, Billy comes out of a coma and asks for lip gloss. When the doctors tell him what happened, he says “I guess they didn’t like the dress.”

FREAK SHOW ??? (3/4 stars) Directed by: Trudie Styler Written by: Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio Starring: Alex Lawther, Bette Midler, Ian Nelson, Abigail Breslin, John McEnroe, Celia Weston and AnnaSophia Robb Running time: 95 mins.
The movie coasts along on the clever attempts by screenwriters Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio to make Billy as outrageous as possible. Then things change, and a plot begins to form, when—and this is the heart-shaped lump-in-the-throat part—poor Billy is rescued from his misery by Flip (Ian Nelson), the school football hero. He doesn’t understand Billy either, but he’s a decent, non-judgmental chap with a sympathetic nature, naïve enough to think he can turn the school freak into a guy’s guy. He’s a perfect friend, because he’s not exactly a clichéd jock, either. Enamored of art, with a secret desire to be a painter, he once even told his father he was going to New York for an exhibition at the Met—his dad thought he meant a Mets game. Hanging out together raises eyebrows, but the friendship eventually curdles when Billy announces his candidacy for Homecoming Queen, announcing to the student body, “I didn’t choose to be fabulous. Fabulous chose me!” His policy? To put an end to bigotry and hate and promote “glamour, pageantry and good hair.” The election gives other students who are “different” the power to find their own voices. “Vote for me and you’re voting for the freak in all of us” is Billy’s motto, while his mean-spirited opponent for the school’s homecoming tiara is snobby bigot Lynette (a grown-up Abigail Breslin) who stands for “decency vs. depravity.” No spoilers about how it all turns out when the ballots are counted, but director Styler’s parallels to a recent U.S. election are not exactly subtle. The cast is sublime, including John McEnroe as the demanding school coach who tortures Billy in gym class, and Celia Weston as the housekeeper who plays more of a mother role in Bill’s life than the real mom in whom his adoration turns out to be a life-altering mistake. Freak Show peters out in the end, leaving many issues unresolved, but it is never boring, and its plea for inclusion, acceptance and tolerance over bullying in the confusing fabric of a changing society is laudable.
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