FREAK SHOW is Kind of Hedwig Meets Clueless

Two years ago, at the 2016 Mardi Gras Film Festival, I reviewed a movie called DEPARTURE. It was the first time I discovered Alex Lawther on film. He was a revelation and I mentioned in my review he gave my favourite performance for the year. The character was a gay teen going through turmoil, not unlike his performance in this year’s FREAK SHOW, but on a completely different trajectory. Lawther is an anomaly in the current Hollywood film world. He is cute, but not pin-up, he actively seeks difficult, mostly gay, but definitely differing and interesting characters, to play. And he challenges himself in every role. To me he is a young Alan Cumming and I will actively seek tickets to anything he is in. You may have seen him most recently in Netflix’s THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD. Loved that show!

I got to catch FREAK SHOW at this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival. Sadly I can find no release date for it in Australia although I will update if it becomes announced. I would guess it rated M and it runs for 95mins.


Freak Show Ultimate image




Could Billy Bloom be like everyone else if he wanted to? It would certainly save him a whole lot of trouble. But he has absolutely no desire to be like them. When others call him theatrical, he takes it as a compliment; when his classmates feel provoked by his drive to be different, it only motivates him further. ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered down’, his father warns him. That does not deter Billy from deciding to run for homecoming queen. Somewhere in-between David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Freddy Mercury and Oscar Wilde, in the transgressive space of pop culture and dressed up as a high school comedy with wit, heart and an impressive cast, FREAK SHOW is about the violence of conformity and the power of self-determination.


Freak Show Alex Lawther image
Alex Lawther



FREAK SHOW is theatre for the screen, darlings. The mum is Bette Midler, the news reporter, Laverne Cox. It is a trip down camp non-gender specific teen discovery. It’s about being who you truly want to be and challenging anything that gets in the way. It is so over the top a lot of people will find the Billy Bloom (Lawther) character theatrically annoying. He is a young G-Rated Hedwig who was brought up by an alcoholic queer mother, Muv (Better Midler), who was all about getting drunk, playing dress ups, and having a good time. Billy is insanely unique and intelligent and is determined to be himself even if it kills him.

We live in a society that is about compromise and assimilation but Billy won’t have a bar of it, and good on him! He runs for Homecoming Queen in a school of narrow-minded students. It is an exaggerated look at becoming accepted, and at times it’s hysterical, at other times really quite sad, and at some other times a little cotton candy cliched. But it’s worth it for the fun ride that is watching Lawther dazzle.


Freak Show Laverne Cox, Abigail Breslin and Alex Lawther image
Laverne Cox, Abigail Breslin and Alex Lawther



Lawther is the best actor of this current generation, whatever it is being called these days. His talent just goes from strength to strength. DEPARTURE; just sublime, a movie that showed he was years beyond his age. His performance in BLACK MIRROR in the SHUT UP AND DANCE episode was even better, he was the young Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME and the young Christopher Robin in GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. And then his performance in THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD solidified him on the world stage. Mark my words, Lawther will become one of the greatest actors on screen over the next decade.

His performance as Billy Bloom is one of the campest queer performances in years that should be applauded. How someone of Lawther’s age can do a performance this uniquely sequinned and feathery is beyond me, it shows his true dedication to art and will forever have him embraced as a queer icon.


“Buckle up, darlings, I’m gonna take you on a little ride I call my life.” Billy Bloom


Ian Nelson was superb as Flip, he is also sooooo gorgeous he was hard not to like. Flip is a character I wish I had as a friend growing up. Abigail Breslin was good in her performance but her character was a little two dimensional and cliched and deserved better writing. I thought we could have had a lot more of Laverne Cox, she always lights up the screen. Bette Midler wasn’t in the movie near enough and I nearly fell out of my chair seeing John McEnroe playing the coach.

And to bring it home solidly Celia Watson and Larry Pine were fantastic as Billy’s parental units. Technically Florence (Weston) was not Billy’s mum but she was better suited to the position and was the only solid piece of love in Billy’s life.


Freak Show Alex Lawther image
Alex Lawther



FREAK SHOW is a character vehicle for Alex Lawther. It again shows an actor that has talent light years beyond his age. It is a teen queer coming-of-age story that is both heartfelt and hilarious with a good message, even if it has been told a lot of times already. If only it was a little more HEDWIG and a little less CLUELESS.





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.