On this date, in 1995, To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar opened in theaters. The film starred Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes & John Leguizamo as drag queens who are traveling across the country to take part in a Beauty Contest.
It will probably surprise a lot of people that To Wong Foo… is an Amblin Entertainment Production, partly because of the subject matter, but mostly because the film is pretty forgettable. The casting of two 90s action stars, Swayze and Snipes, as Drag Queens was pretty noteworthy when the film opened over 20 years ago. But, when you get past the shock casting, the film is surprisingly flat over all. Beeban Kidron directed the film and she brought little visual flair to the project. The look and feel of To Wong Foo… is on par with a 90’s television sitcom.
The situational comedy comparisons don’t end with the direction. The script is filled with clichés and jokes that just don’t work. The performances of Swayze and Snipes are fine and they are committed to the subject matter, but they just aren’t’ given much to work with. The film deals with domestic abuse, racism and homophobia with zero depth or nuance. Every time it seems like the film may tackle a significant issue, like the drag queens dealing with an abusive police officer, it quickly dodges the issue and just turns to cheap and easy gags. It’s not that movies can’t deal with weighty topics with humor, but if you are going to have a script that features important issues and you want to make jokes about them, the jokes better be inspired, and nothing about To Wong Foo… is inspired.
John Leguizamo is definitely the stand out of the film, and he comes the closes to creating a character that actually has development. His character actually does have some semblance of an arc, but the culmination of his journey is very contrived and not really earned. He is lost and selfish at the beginning of the film and in the end he learns to be selfless and is rewarded for that change. The problem is that change kind of comes out of nowhere and you really don’t get a true understanding of where this growth and evolution came from.
To Wong Foo… wants to send a message about female empowerment and that of course is a great message to send. The problem comes with how the female characters learn to be empowered. When our three protagonists take a road trip and get stuck in a small town filled with racist and sexist men they quickly make an impact on the women in the town. The women learn from the main characters to stand up to the men in their life and demand the respect they deserve from them. The issue I have with this change is the women learn to be strong from men. Yes, they are men in drag, but they are still men.
To Wong Foo… isn’t the worse film ever made but it definitely isn’t one of Amblin Entertainment’s stronger projects, it’s probably one of the weakest. And if you didn’t know To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar was an Amblin film, don’t worry about it, you didn’t miss anything.