Freak Show Review

Freak Show is a 2018 comedy drama about a teenager who, despite attending an ultra conservative high school, makes the decision to do something extreme.

There’s no doubt Trudie Styler‘s latest Freak Show has its heart in the right place, a timely bit of outlandishness that knows all the buttons to push and goes about jumping up and down on them with all sorts of good intentions. It focuses on a character that speaks for many of course and works hard to deliver a kind of seriously whimsical journey of a boy on his own, even as it feels like we’ve travelled down this road before with many different people. 

Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) is a boy cut from different cloth, a kid shaped by his flamboyant mother, a woman of vivid colors and lifestyles whom he names ‘Muv’ (Bette Midler), though he is naturally left of the ‘norm’. He’s incredibly confident and a little brash in his elaborate makeup, wigs, and theatrical outfits. After living with Muv for most of his childhood, she one day disappears, sending the teen to his father’s (Larry Pine), who lives in a ‘red state’ of ultra-conservatism. When he arrives for his first day of school in a somewhat garish (by this town’s standards) outfit, he’s immediately met with scorn, leading to a daily battle with a school full of hatred as students take to extreme verbal abuse. Jeans rules. Anything else is cause for riot. Refusing to give up, he escalates his own attack, eventually wearing his most daring ensemble yet, which prompts an assault that lands him in the hospital. Not entirely unsupported, he is befriended by football hero Flip (Ian Nelson), who inspires a new string of courage and a plan that will truly upset the balance.

To be sure, a role like Billy Bloom is an actor’s dream, and Lawther jumps into the deep end, committing himself to extravagance and the character with great energy. It’s really the movie’s single greatest asset, with the young actor undeniably compelling. He offers up Billy as a model a martyr and mystery with much appeal. However, the film itself is a curious mix of parable and fantasy that never quite lands as intended, with everything around Billy in a hyper state of overload, with every character seemingly drawn from an 80s coming-of-age teen comedy turned up to eleven. And like most movies in this admittedly flexible genre, adults are cardboard cutouts of limited supervision and presence who stand clearly on one of two sides.

However, this is a movie you want to like, it in fact almost daring you not to, its story one that will ring true of course for many young people in the audience. But it never feels very real or genuine, with characters thinly drawn and pulled from a deep pool of archetypes, from mindless jocks to an insensitive and callous class princess (Abigail Breslin), she the very definition of generic unlikable with Breslin so overboard it’s almost unhinged. On the other hand, there is Florence (Celia Weston), the live-in housemaid who is a rock in his unstable home. Layered over this is Billy’s endless narration and commentary on what’s happening, never leaving you with any ambiguity.

In the end, its hard not to appreciate the storybook approach and it becomes obvious that Styler is less concerned with realism than the moral imperative at its heart. For many, this break from authenticity will surely be a barrier, but others may still embrace the message instead of the manner. With a character like Billy in the lead though, it might not be possible to have both.

Freak Show Review

Movie description: Freak Show is a 2018 comedy drama about a teenager who, despite attending an ultra conservative high school, makes the decision to do something extreme.

Director(s): Trudie Styler

Actor(s): Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb, Willa Fitzgerald

Genre: Comedy, Drama

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