To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar will forever be known as the rip-off/unauthorised American remake of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which is a fair comparison, but Priscilla has a much better script and performances (to think Guy Pearce did that and L.A. Confidential almost back-to-back is stunning, talk about range!) and in the end it had the dramatic heft to lift it above being a silly “blokes in frocks” comedy. Despite that, it’s an interesting film in its own right, mainly due to the cast.
Here a trio of drag queens from New York City take a cross-country trip to participate in the “Drag Queen of America” competition in Hollywood. They end up stuck in a hick town, and a bigoted cop is trying to find them after an incident where he gets knocked out. The three drag queens are played by Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo, and it’s very funny, because Wesley Snipes clearly wasn’t into dressing in drag as much as Swayze and Leguizamo were.
It’s mildly funny, but nothing that original, unlike Priscilla, which came out the previous year. RuPaul has a very fun cameo as the confederate flag-clad drag queen “Rachel Tensions.” RuPaul’s fame was just rising nationally with the “Supermodel (You Better Work)” single and TV appearances, etc. RuPaul’s appearance alongside some of his New York drag queen friends, and Quentin Crisp popping up in the opening scenes, gives it a hint of “authenticity,” but it’s still very much a PG-rated, Steven Spielberg-produced take on drag queens (Priscilla is an R, to compare the two yet again.)
The casting process might be the most interesting aspect of the whole film. Everybody in Hollywood was interested, including Mel Gibson for the Swayze role (now that would be subversive!). Gary Oldman turned it down because he didn’t want to go through a heavy-makeup film again, having just done Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Matt Dillon, Robert Downey, Jr., Rob Lowe, and James Spader were all under serious consideration, and Robin Williams initially signed up to do the film but in the end only did a small cameo role during the start of the film instead.
It’s a perfectly fine breezy drag queen comedy, which I’m sure will ruffle some boa feathers for younger and more sensitive audiences because it’s certainly not the most “woke” film when it comes to race. Also, they will be asking “are transgender or are they drag queens?” because they are never out of costume except near the start of the film. So are they living as women? It’s not very clear. If you haven’t seen The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, see that instead because it’s so much better (even if the ping pong scene has offended many over the years) but To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar is fine: nothing more and nothing less.
The disc from Fabulous Films (a fitting company to release the film) includes 15 minutes of deleted and extended scenes.