- Emma Simmonds
- 20 July 2020
Jacki Weaver shines in a big-hearted drag scene comedy, co-starring Lucy Liu
'Oh, my Lord, I've inherited a gay bar!' exclaims Southern Baptist choir mistress Maybelline (Jacki Weaver) in a likeable fish-out-of-water comedy from Thom Fitzgerald. It follows this small-town Texan as she gets to grips with the San Francisco drag scene and uses her maternal magic to transform lives. Going even bigger on heart than it does on hair, Stage Mother gifts a fine lead role to serial supporting star and double Oscar nominee Weaver, who sells it so well you may not notice the film's failings.
Although it begins with a death, this is assuredly feelgood fare. When drag artist and club owner Rickey (Eldon Thiele) collapses and dies onstage, his estranged mother Maybelline defies Rickey's embittered father to attend his rather colourful funeral in San Francisco. Initially shocked by her son's former lifestyle, she becomes fast friends with his best pal Sienna (a surprisingly cast Lucy Liu, playing a peroxide-locked, cosmetics-peddling, chain-smoking single mom) and chafes with Rickey's partner Nathan (Entourage's playboy actor Adrian Grenier, another unexpected piece of casting – here playing bruised and camp rather more endearingly).
Conceptually cute and innuendo heavy, there's also no shortage of one-liners in the screenplay from Brad Hennig ('Those pants are so tight I can see the promised land,' quips Maybelline); it's an approach to dialogue that can feel constructed, yet it's witty enough and heading toward a moving, suitably flamboyant conclusion. And Weaver is thoroughly loveable as Maybelline puts her prejudices aside. She sets about mending broken wings and getting Rickey's club back on track, whilst grappling with her own grief; her sense of humour and spunkiness meaning she's not just a small-town, small-minded stereotype. But Fitzgerald's flat, TV-movie-like direction doesn't suit the sassy script, or Weaver's passionate work – a bit of Baz Luhrmann-style va-va-voom or the pep of a PJ Hogan would not have gone amiss here. Stage Mother lets its freak flag fly, but not quite at full-mast.
Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 24 Jul.