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  Outrageous! Life's A Drag
Year: 1977
Director: Richard Benner
Stars: Craig Russell, Hollis McLaren, Richert Easley, Allan Moyle, David McIlwraith, Gerry Salsberg, Andrée Pelletier, Helen Shaver, Martha Gibson, Helen Hughes, Jonah Royston, Richard Moffatt, David Woito, Rusty Ryan, Trevor Bryan, Michael Ironside
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Robin Turner (Craig Russell) is a hairdresser living in Toronto, but what he really dreams of being is an entertainer where he could take to the stage every night in a spangly dress and do his impersonations of famous female stars of today and yesteryear. However, as he is planning to at least dabble in being a performer, his old friend Liza Connors (Hollis McLaren) shows up at his apartment one night and asks to be put up there; on questioning her, Robin discovers she has released herself from a mental hospital where she was receiving treatment for severe schizophrenia, but agrees to take her in...

Outrageous! was a surprising cult hit in its day, and not simply with gay audiences. A lot of that was down to the star quality of Craig Russell, whose drag queen act was undeniably impressive as he mimicked the likes of Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland among others, though the jewel in his crown was his Mae West, who he had actually worked for as secretary for a while in his past. An intriguing chap, although he said he was homosexual, that didn't stop him fathering a daughter or marrying a woman, which may be why he was so good at playing the gay man who didn't fit in with the lifestyle of his fellow gays.

Robin finds himself looked down on by those of his gender who view his antics as a particularly poor stereotype which they are trying to live down, which rejection by those who should really have "got" his personality leads him to a depressed nature. He can tell he's no way as badly off as Liza, however, who he wants to look after but doesn't know if he can as she's rejecting any psychiatric help and intermittently going off her medication, not to mention bedding men when she's not taking the pill as often as she should be. When she becomes pregnant it leads to all sorts of complications as she wants to keep the baby.

Meanwhile, Robin must find himself querying his own motives when he sees them through the eyes of others who are quick to criticise him, with only Liza seemingly happy to accept him as he is: that is until he opts to embrace his eccentricities and love of old style showbiz glamour and become who he is most comfortable with. So the plot here is something of a split personality itself, with Liza's trials and tribulations on one hand providing the grimmer side of not fitting in with society, and Robin's eventually more happy in his skin behaviour supplying the laughs. Outrageous! was a comedy drama all right, and there were times when it looked as if neither were going to marry up here.

To add to that uneasy mixture there was the fact that even back then, never mind today, the film looks like someone's home movies, barely one step away from amateurism, which can be distracting at this remove. Fortunately the magnetism of Russell and McLaren win the day, with the latter taking care of the seriousness and the former, obviously, awarded the lion's share of one-liners, much in the way his idol Mae West would have done in her films. Director Richard Benner drew his script from the stories of Margaret Gibson, a woman who had lived with Russell and taken inspiration from their life together as roommates, which is likely why the plot is too unwilling to be placed in any one category, rendering it all the more authentic. When the genuinely funny Russell is onstage, you can be thankful his act was captured for posterity: sadly, he had died by 1990 of AIDS, and Benner would succumb a couple of years later to the same disease, making this more of a monument than it intended to be. Music by Paul Hoffert.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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