Have you ever wondered what Patrick Swayze would look like in drag? No? Me either, but if you watch this movie you will never be able to unsee him. You also won’t be able to unsee his co-stars, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo, who incidentally make pretty decent looking females. Wesley Snipes has legs FOR DAYS and John Leguizamo’s silky skin would put Maybelline models to shame. These three actors were an incredible choice for these roles. Initially, seeing the usually sexy and macho male actors as drag queens is emotionally confusing, but once you start to watch their character portrayals, you become mesmerized.
The story is of three drag queens traveling across the country on their way to a national drag show. Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) and Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) have just tied for winner of the New York Drag Queen pageant, and as such, received round-trip airfare to California to compete in the Hollywood Drag Queen of America pageant. As the two ladies gab excitedly about their drag futures, they run into a young drag queen crying on the stairs. Chi-Chi (John Leguizamo) is new to the drag scene, and losing the New York competition is making her doubt herself.
Vida, who has a decidedly tender heart, empathizes with the child and devises a plan — they will sell their plane tickets, rent a car, and take Chi-Chi with them to Hollywood to teach her what being a real drag queen is all about. Noxeema — the sassy and skeptical one of the group — vehemently opposes this idea, but eventually bends to Vida’s will.
The three Queens embark on their adventure in a bomb-ass, blue convertible. Despite a few minor mishaps, everything seems to be going well. That is, until their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Desperate and alone, the Queens are picked up by a local teen out for an evening drive. He takes them back to his podunk town so they can have their car repaired. When they learn the repairs will take the weekend, Vida and her friends must settle for a sleepover in small town America.
Although it’s a mostly funny and light-hearted film, To Wong Foo does address some darker themes. Most predictably, the film tackles sexual prejudice. Small towns haven’t exactly been known for open-minded and progressive populations, so it’s a prime location for three drag queens to face animosity. The townspeople have mixed reactions to the women: some don’t seem to realize they are drag queens, others whisper quietly amongst themselves, but a few — including the innkeeper, Carol Ann (Stockard Channing) — are perfectly aware of the womens’ differences and don’t judge them for it.
Vida is the strong leader of the crew, encouraging the other ladies to show kindness and tolerance to their unwitting hosts. At the same time, however, she makes it known that she will not be a victim. Noxeema’s confidence and sass also command respect, albeit a bit more aggressively than gentle-giant Vida.
To Wong Foo dips into issues of domestic violence, too. Carol Ann is the scapegoat to an abusive husband. The longer the women stay at her inn, the more they are witness to the conditions Carol Ann must bear. Vida and her Queens spend much of their time in the town helping Carol Ann and her repressed female cohorts emerge from their shells, learn to be proud of who they are, and actually have fun for a change. Even Robin Williams makes a cameo in this unsuspecting little film. And what’s the significance of Julie Newmar, you ask? Julie, an actress-dancer-singer-sex-symbol-superstar of the fifties, is the inspiration for it all. Watch the movie to find out how!
This charismatic film is playful, humorous, and a surprising gem. You’ll start watching it for the sheer hilarity of seeing Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, and Wesley Snipes in drag, but you’ll finish watching it feeling FABULOUS and with a new respect for these actors’ diverse skill sets. You’re welcome.