When her gay son Ricky dies and leaves her ownership of a drag bar, conservative choir mistress Maybelline Metcalf is unsure how to react. Affronted by her husband Jeb who previously disowned the boy, Maybelline decides to journey to in San Francisco and see Ricky’s world for herself. However, when she arrives, it’s clear she’s not welcome. From Ricky’s former partner Nathan to the drag queens who are already deserting the sinking ship as the club slides into debt, scepticism and sarcasm walk hand in hand. Yet, taken in by free-spirited Sienna (an excellent Lucy Liu), will Jacki Weaver’s Maybelline be able to turn things around before everyone leaves her? …
... tinkles the same ivories as (La Cage Aux Folles) whilst skipping most of the lower, more dramatic notes.
Ok, first off, This is a Jacki Weaver vehicle. It may not have left the garage as one but, such is the force of her performances (think of David Michôd’s excellent Animal Kingdom or Silver Linings Playbook), and you will know that she has a habit of stealing ensemble movies. Here, as before, her lone star state accent is spot on and she drags far more pathos out of the script than ever existed on the page. All of which is really good because Stage Mother‘s setup is – no spoilers here – as rickety as an old fence. That said, whilst the story doesn’t bring much in terms of originality, it is at least propped up with plenty of good intentions and a remarkable stand-out performance by Lucy Liu. Shorn of the Asian beauty queen cut-out that Hollywood carved for her, Liu gets to do some full-on character acting, and you have to say, you’ll wish she’d had a little bit more screentime as a single mother floating through life.
Yet, Stage Mother is a movie whose dramatic depths are tempered by its primary function to entertain. Owing as much if not everything to La Cage Aux Folles (later remade into The Birdcage with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane) Stage Mother tinkles the same ivories as then whilst skipping most of the lower, more dramatic notes. Like its drag routines, the film’s purpose and influences protrude a little too easily and sadly misses some of the more caustic charms of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in Kinky Boots.
So, whilst Jacki Weaver manages to just about manages to sell a lone star state mom whose home-spun perspectives save the day, there’s a pricking reality missing that’s missing – her ability to fail. This is because, in the desert of perfectly balanced queer comedy-dramas, the totteringly-towering shadow of Priscilla: Queen of The Desert still walks tall. With its flawed and fantastic characters, the crown is still on the same head it was twenty-six years ago.
That said, even with its predestined, pivotal big show finale, Stage Mother becomes a welcome-if-familiar addition to Priscilla’s legacy. The epilogue satisfyingly confirms the distance that Maybelline has travelled and furthermore points to a journey that many have yet to make.
Join her. It’s worth it.0