Dressed as a GirlCultureCinemaMovie reviews
Flamboyant and fabulous throughout, Dressed as a Girl documents the baroque world of East London’s drag scene over a period of six years. Whilst director Colin Rothbart wonderfully captures the eclectic characters and wild, hedonistic lifestyle at the centre of this fringe world, he fails to land the cathartic blow achieved by other cult classics in the genre – Paris is Burning being the obvious example.
The film follows the lives of six legends of the London drag scene: Scottee, Holestar, Pia, Amber, John Sizzle and ringleader Johnny Woo, all at the epicentre of East London’s 90s drag explosion. Driving forces behind the area’s outrageous Gay Bingo parties, Johnny and his friends are shown in a new light, revealing the vulnerability and pain behind the glitz and glam. For all their apparent self-assurance and spunk, this is a group with an army of skeletons in their closets, with Rothbart plunging us into back-stories filled with persecution, bullying, drug abuse, depression, attempted suicides and family-breakdown.
After a drug and alcohol-induced multiple organ failure, Johnny resolves to organise and reinvigorate the drag community, taking the group to Glastonbury in 2009 to host the first ever “transvestite/gay” tent. Following success, Johnny is commissioned by the likes of Time Out London to host big-budget events, but fast-forward to his 45th birthday and we find him dissatisfied and hyper-self-critical, struggling to battle the demons that are telling him he hasn’t achieved his full potential.
Scenes in which the characters interact with one another are largely overshadowed by individualistic partying and spotlight performances – their stories are told separately and largely avoid transversal. This disjunction contributes to the film’s inability to touch the true heart and soul of its material, which is further compounded by an infuriating style of editing that continually yanks us from personal moments into bizarre and highly theatrical segues, thus preventing us from truly discovering the people beneath the characters.
The result is a film that, while touching and insightful, repeatedly gets in its own way and robs itself of its potential. Dressed as a Girl is still a compelling celebration of freedom and unapologetic pursuit of the authentic self in all its forms.
Dressed as a Girl is released nationwide on 25th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for Dressed as a Girl here: