Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Alaska is a Drag - Movie Review

The Movie: Alaska is a Drag

The Director: Shaz Bennett

The Cast: Martin L. Washington Jr., Maya Washington, Matt Dallas, Margaret Cho, Jason Scott Lee, Chris O'Shea, Kevin Daniels, Nia Peeples, Adam Tomei

The Story: Aspiring drag queen working at a fish cannery in Alaska struggles with bullying while caring for a twin sister who has cancer.

The Interview:

The Review:
This movie might be about as unexpected and creative of a story as one could imagine and what makes it even more fun is how director Shaz Bennett has drawn from her own experiences growing up in Utah and living in Alaska to come up with it all. This movie really is a lot of fun while also inviting you to take a good, hard look at how we live our lives and how we perceive others whether they are a flamboyant homosexual superstar, or a mild mannered seemingly conservative business owner. You never really know how someone is existing underneath all the walls and makeup and characters we use to try to get through the day.

Bennett takes great care in sticking with an authentic representation of life and how it's lived by everyone in the film. You can see humanity in every single character and they all each have a meaningful place in the story, there are no generic prop characters or shallow personalities that have no real reason for existing other than to fill a space or deliver a line. Mostly, I really love the relationship between Theo and Tristan, the twin siblings played brilliantly by Martin L. Washington Jr. and Maya Washington respectively. Their casting was very inspired and is an interesting story in itself (Bennett talks about it in our interview on the TwoOhSix Podcast) and I feel like there is no one else who could have filled these roles.

Any movie set in Alaska better have some amazing views of the wilderness and mountains and snow and all the stuff that makes the state such a beautiful place to look at and Bennett does not disappoint. Pretty much every exterior shot is an example of just how good mother nature is at making art. The interiors are also filled with so much life and everything looks like it has been there forever and has seen so much over time like the fish cannery that Jason Scott Lee's character manages and the bar that Margaret Cho's character owns.

Bennett makes it easy to get to know her characters in a way that is very natural and mostly because they are just people. This movie isn't about fairy tales or Hollywood hyper realities or making bold statements about diversity or representation, it's about people with hopes and dreams and aspirations of doing amazing things. It just so happens that her characters aren't all standardized in roles that populate societal norms, they are vibrant individuals with different beliefs, preferences, and lifestyle choices. I believe this is why Ava DuVernay selected the director, and her feature film debut, to be a part of the Array family, her independent film distribution and resource collective.

The Verdict:
Alaska is a Drag is a movie that is full of life and inspiration and a cast that is just as impressive. Shaz Bennett's feature film debut puts her on the map as a director to keep an eye on.

Check out the Podcast!

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