To Wong Foo, Thanks For Every Thing, Julie Newmar

on September 08, 1995 by Christine James
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   This comedy about three big-city drag queens who set out to drive across the country but meet adversity in a small town will inevitably draw comparisons to "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," but it would be more accurate to say "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" is "Priscilla" meets "Clueless" meets "Thelma & Louise" meets every movie ever made about how a backward community is revivified by the good-hearted outsider oddballs who are forced to stay there because their car breaks down.
   Hair and makeup artist J. Roy Helland and costume designer Marlene Stewart deserve ovations for their Tootsiefication of Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo ("A Pyromaniac's Love Story"), whose transformations into Vida, Noxeema and Chi Chi, respectively, are aesthetically remarkable. As for the actors themselves, they are absolutely fabulous, bending genders with a natural flair and relishing every flamboyant moment. That leap is a particular feat for Swayze and Snipes, who are generally perceived as macho hunks of the silver screen. Yet Swayze plays Vida, the personification of class, with all the refined, matriarchal sensibility any amount of estrogen could provide, and in Noxeema Snipes embodies the prima donna starlet with attitude, under whose stunning gold lame gown beats a soft heart. Leguizamo has already demonstrated his versatility and range (including drag characters) in other venues, including various one-man comedy shows as well as the Fox TV comedy sketch series "House of Buggin'," which he headlined. His portrayal of the saucy, garish yet insecure Chi Chi, whom Vida and Noxeema take on as a protegee to school her in the ways of elegance and style, is hilarious.
   Carried on the strong shoulders of its protagonists, scene-stealers all, the film succeeds in being fun and even touching, though the story itself is somewhat thin and cliched. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic charm of a whole town being made over and won over, and of the coming together of two disparate factions, is infectious. This light-hearted feel-good fare is hard to resist.    Starring Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo and Stockard Channing. Directed by Beeban Kidron. Written by Douglas Carter Beane. Produced by G. Mac Brown. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for subject matter involving men living in drag, a brief scene of spousal abuse and some language. Running time: 108 min.
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