That Tyler Perry sure likes to dress in drag, doesn’t he? With this week’s release of yet another of the writer/director/star’s ‘Madea’ movies, we thought that we’d use today’s Roundtable to look back at some of cinema’s other notable films about cross-dressing shenanigans.
We’ll even allow one TV show in here for good measure. Why not?
Best: Michael J. Fox in ‘Back to the Future, Part II‘. Why? Because it’s short and sweet, and not a major character.
Worst: John Travolta in ‘Hairspray‘. Let’s be honest, Travolta has only been in a couple of good movies. Watch ‘Wild Hogs’ and/or ‘Old Dogs’ and you’ll see exactly why he’s not worth watching anymore. Throwing him in a fat woman’s suit only makes him even less tolerable. I’d rather have that gypsy from ‘Drag Me to Hell’ turn me into a fat woman than have to watch that absurd performance again.
Worst: Considering that gender-swapping movies usually tend to be a pet peeve of mine, it’s safe to say that I can’t really come up with a favorite. Most of the comedies I just don’t find all that humorous, and when we’re talking more serious dramas such as ‘Boys Don’t Cry’… I’m sorry, but I just didn’t buy Hilary Swank as a man at all. As for the worst of these kinds of films, they probably don’t get much more terrible than 1994’s ‘It’s Pat‘. In this spinoff movie from a recurring ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch, Julia Sweeney stars as “Pat,” a creepy and unfunny humanoid that no one seems to be able to determine whether it’s male or female. Kind of like talk show host Wendy Williams. Anyway, how Pat beat out Toonces the Driving Cat for a feature film is beyond me, and will forever remain one of life’s greatest mysteries.
Best: The witty, pitch-perfect script for ‘Tootsie‘ is a staple of screenwriting classes for a reason. Dustin Hoffman was at his “difficult but talented” peak. This is quite possibly Sydney Pollack’s best film as a director. (He’s also perfect as Hoffman’s long suffering agent.) The cast is packed with perfect co-stars: Teri Garr, Jessica Lange, Bill Murray, Charles Durning, George Gaynes and Dabney Coleman. Need I go on?
Worst: Anything ‘Big Momma‘. Where ‘Tootsie’ has wit, sophistication and humor, these movies have Martin Lawrence.
Best & Worst: Kathleen Turner in ‘Friends‘. When I was young, one of the movies that my family enjoyed was ‘Romancing the Stone’. Even as a kid, I thought that Kathleen Turner was pretty sultry running around the rainforest. Time passed, and the show ‘Friends’ finally decided to introduce Chandler Bing’s often-mentioned father, Charles Bing. Charles Bing had apparently decided to become a showgirl post-Bing family unit. At some point, seeing ‘Friends’ episodes in syndication, it clicked that “Charles Bing” was Kathleen Turner. It still boggles my mind that the woman who starred in ‘Romancing the Stone’ and voiced Jessica Rabbit wound up as Chandler Bing’s showgirl father. It was kind of like when I thought I caught ‘Romancing the Stone’ on cable, and it turned out to be something called ‘Jewel of the Nile’.
Best: So, umm, like, Spoiler Alert: That chick in ‘The Crying Game‘ is really a guy. Whoops, did I just ruin the surprise of this 20-year-old movie for you? More so than the fact that the performer in question eventually received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor rather than Actress? It’s a pretty famous movie with an incredibly famous plot twist, so this is really nobody’s fault but your own.
That said, one of the greatest strengths of ‘The Crying Game’ is that the film isn’t totally reliant on the gimmick of its plot twist. I first saw the movie long before it had built up any popular buzz or Oscar hype. At the time, it was just a little art film that had gotten a good review in my local paper. I wasn’t aware that it supposedly had a twist at all. Honestly, even so, I figured out that Jaye Davidson was a man pretty early on. Something about his chin just didn’t look right. That didn’t (and still doesn’t) matter. This is one of the most perfectly scripted movies I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t have a single unnecessary scene or line of dialogue. The story is thematically rich on numerous levels, not the least of which are its explorations of gender and identity. This is director Neil Jordan’s most perfectly realized film. It’s a masterpiece.
Worst: As much as I respect David Cronenberg, and as much as his 1993 adaptation of the stage play ‘M. Butterfly‘ is a fascinating failure, the film is undeniably a failure all the same. The primary reason for that is John Lone’s inability to convincingly play a woman. He has the wrong body type, the wrong face, the wrong mannerisms, everything. Although a fine actor otherwise, he was just flat-out miscast here. There’s simply no way that Jeremy Irons’ French diplomat character could be fooled by this ruse, no matter how much he wanted to believe it. (One of the story’s primary themes is the power of self-delusion.) Because the audience cannot suspend disbelief over this aspect, the whole thing falls apart. It’s a shame, because the material is actually pretty strong. This was just a huge miscalculation on the director’s part.
Don’t be ashamed to admit that you’ve watched a cross-dressing movie or two in your time. Tell us about your picks for best and worst in the Comments.