Watching Freak Show is an interesting experience. On the one hand, it has a slightly forced, manic glossiness, an overly colourful pizzazz and an ostentatious exterior. This sets the scene for a rather inane film about a teenage misfit and his tribulations. And yet, on the other hand, the story is so confidently delivered and support for the hero Billy Bloom (played by the fantastic Alex Lawther of Black Mirror and The Jungle) so expertly marshalled that it almost completely avoids being an irritation.
Bloom is a stylish young gay teenager who moves from his mother’s home in Connecticut to his father’s estate in the Deep South, where he has to attend high school. His fashion sense is keenly developed and he is a master of makeup, hair and fabulous outfits. These talents are – unsurprisingly – not highly valued by his insecure, conservative peers, and he is viciously bullied. The effects this kind of treatment have on a person are conveyed with painful verisimilitude, but respect for the protagonist is successfully drawn out of the viewer because of his surety and defiance.
A very strong aspect of this movie is that it mostly steers clear of the censorious politically correct ideology that often goes along with discourse regarding maltreatment and discrimination. Bloom is not infantilised or pigeonholed as a helpless victim, but responds to his rejection with a mature stoicism that is neither punitive nor judgmental: he is just doing what he is doing. In fact, there are moments where his loyalty to his own being inspires acceptance in others, and there is a kindness to this move that provides a welcome nuance to the feature. In addition, gentle sprinklings of comedy throughout add a lightness and overall joy that lifts the story out of the sticky mire where personality is of ultimate importance.
In this way, Freak Show stands as a powerful story about seizing one’s own individuality. The difficulties of adolescence – so full of insecurity, growing pains and herd thinking – are conveyed with a lighthearted touch, and Bloom’s struggle to be himself is not exclusive. All of his peers (the bullies as well as the friends) are shown to be struggling, perhaps not quite to the same degree, given their relative acceptance, but the message stands that everybody has it tough, and a greater degree of understanding and compassion would go a long way.
Freak Show is released nationwide on 22nd June 2018.
Watch the trailer for Freak Show here: