A narrative like the one in Stage Mother, detailing the drag scene and the straight Texan mother who embraces it following the death of her queer son, should hit hard in 2020.
Even more so when a seasoned performer like Jacki Weaver portrays the mother.
However, as well-intentioned as Stage Mother is, it’s a little too light and surface-level to resonate with queer audiences beyond being an easy 90 minute watch. It’s a film that feels more catered to ease straight audiences into gay culture.
Stage Mother centres around Weaver’s Maybelline Metcalf (how’s that for a drag name?!) She’s a conservative church-choir director whose son dies from a drug overdose.
Estranged since his coming out, Maybelline nonetheless travels to San Francisco to attend his funeral.
Hoping to learn more about him, she attends an almost stereotypically flamboyant funeral. There she discovers her son’s partner (Adrian Grenier) is far from her biggest fan.
Maybelline then discovers she’s inherited Pandora’s Box, a drag club that her son owned and operated as the star performer.
The club suffers from tired performances, but Maybelline’s church choir experience lends itself to livening up the queens.
As a result, Maybelline finally becomes the drag mother she wasn’t able to be for all these years.
Simplistic characters waste potential of Stage Mother’s story
Brad Hennig’s script unfortunately goes for the lowest common denominator with much of Stage Mother’s narrative.
Though you can’t fault the film on its enthusiasm and heart, queer representation has improved so much over the years in cinema.
And it’s a shame that this film treats most of its characters with such a basic simplicity.
Stage Mother shows its real potential is in the character of Cherry Poppins, a drag performer portrayed by transgender actress Mya Taylor.
Her struggle to find acceptance as a trans woman resonates far deeper than the fluff that much of the film focuses on.
Taylor’s gentle performance demonstrates how much potential Stage Mother has to truly say something, rather than function simply as a forgettable time filler.
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