Director and writer Shaz Bennett has expanded a short film into the 90 minute feature Alaska Is A Drag, securing some ‘name’ talent, including Margarte Cho and Matt Dallas. Perhaps Bennett had to work around their schedules, as the expanded film is structurally all over the place.
The first twenty minutes of the film are clever and engaging. We meet Leo, a young man working in a fish factory, with dreams of being a drag superstar. In one scene the sounds of the factory morph into the beats of a nightclub, and Leo is transported and glammed out onto a stage.
The cast are lovely. Everyone from Martin L Washington as the lead on down are bringing their A-game and are very committed. I also especially liked Jason Scott Lee as Fishery manager and part time boxing coach.
But we are not sure what the story is about. There is a drag show contest and an amateur boxing contest, both which Leo enters. He has a sister who has Hodgkin’s Disease. A father who is a street preacher who steals tires off the truck and also had an affair with a man. There is a bully who is really a self-hating homo. There is a new straight friend Declan, who is confronting his own internalized homophobia. There is a missing mother who has run away to LA. It goes from issue to issue, with the dangers of smoking thrown in for good measure.
With so many story threads it is hard to figure out which one to build towards the climax of the story.
There is also drama for drama’s sake. The boxing fight bully story line about internalized homophobia comes to a head when the bully ‘makes’ Leo fight Declan in a boxing ring by threatening and telling them to. It is preposterous, but to their credit the cast goes for it.
The dialogue and the situations are too on-the-nose dramatically and Leo’s fight skills including a back flip kick to the face seem to suggest he has done some serious training, but we only get a training montage after-the-fact. There are also so many flashbacks to the brother and sister as kids, and while the first time it is touching, by the sixth time it is repetitive and looses it’s punch.
But while the film benefits from its unique setting and a great cast, this Alaska is often a drag.
Alaska Is A Drag screens as part of the 2018 Vancouver Queer Film Festival on Saturday, 11 August 2018 at 7:00 pm at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts and repeats on Sunday, 12 August 2018 at 7:00 pm at the Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas. Visit queerfilmfestival.ca for tickets and information.