A coming-of-age high-school comedy-drama about a queer teenager alienated for his fabulous and gender-smashing fashion sense, Freak Show casts rising star Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) as the camp-as-tits Billy Bloom.
He idolises his cackling diva mother (Bette Midler), but when she up and vanishes he’s forced to move to his father’s sprawling stately home in the deep south of the United States, where extravagant fur coats and burlesque-matador-realness are out, and blue jeans and check shirts are in. Refusing to conform, Bloom arrives at school in ever more elaborate costumes, and fights back against his bullies by announcing he’ll run for homecoming queen.
What transpires is a predictable enough story of acceptance and staying true to oneself, which is all very sweet and wholesome, but it’s fronted by a thoroughly unlikeable leading character. Lawther plays him well (and looks at all times fabulous in the many, many focus-stealing costumes), but Bloom’s smug superiority and transparent selfishness makes him difficult to root for.
The film’s more serious points about homophobia and intolerance are undermined by a late-introduced and ill-fitting fantasy bent, which asks us to believe in a secret society of averagely attractive high-schoolers working behind the scenes, as well as a cast of strictly one-dimensional pretty girls and jocks.
The result is a fun, colourful but confused movie, that blurs the line between genres and much as genders.