For everybody who thought “Connie & Carla” was too upbeat, there’s “Stage Mother,” a drab showcase for the great Jacki Weaver to sing and mother over an unhappy drove of San Fran drag queens.
It opens with an overdose and ends with a “new show,” and is built upon that same thesis more than a few movies on this subject take as a given. Let some straight person come in and “fix” drag, and fix drag queens.
Weaver plays Maybelline (okaaay), a Baptist choir mistress in Red Vine, Texas who gets the awful news that her estranged son has died from an overdose, collapsing on stage at Pandora’s Box, the San Francisco club where he performed.
Her husband, named Jeb (Hugh Thompson) because of-course-he-is, shrugs that off. The kid’s been dead to him since his “coming out.”
“He already moved on from us, years ago.”
But damned if Maybelline’s not flying West to her only son’s funeral. It’s just that the event itself, in a church where the eulogy is a tad profane and the affair turns into a drag showcase “celebration,” is a bit much.
Her son’s surviving partner (Adrian Grenier) is furious and distraught and wants nothing to do with the family that abandoned his beloved Ricky. But then Maybelline meets a single-mom neighbor (the always-cool Lucy Liu) who knew Ricky. And staying with Sienna, she learns about Ricky’s life there and gets a handle on this failing drag club that he not only performed in, but owned.
If only they’d stop all this lip-syncing and vamping to Joan Jett’s “Do Ya Wanna Touch Me?”
“I want y’all to SING!”
“Believe me, I’ve made more with less,” the choir mistress declares. It’s just a change of venue for her. “Different songs, same divas.”
Find a bartender who can accompany on piano, change up the songs andtry to get the word out that this is a club where the overdressed, often overweight divas actually sing — even if that means flirting with a concierge (Anthony Skordi).
But what will re-opening Pandora’s Box do to Maybelline?
The big knock on “Stage Mother” is that it’s just no damn fun. And if you bleed the fun out of drag, what’s the point?
One early joke — a drag queen MC purring, “Oh honey, you’re straight? Guess what? So’s spaghetti until you get it hot and WET!” Another, the Red Vine Baptist Church marquee, which announces “Walmart ain’t the only place to SAVE.” And that’s it.
The rest of the movie is grief running up against anger (Grenier is terrific in a couple of early scenes, and dull when he loses that distraught rage), addiction interventions, prejudice, violence against women and singers really singing. They’ve taken on middling torch ballads, some of them original. Yeah, that’ll pack the tourists in.
The finale is a sentimental high, and yes, Weaver does her own singing.
But “Stage Mother” filmed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a looong way from San Francisco. And that contributes to its quaint, disconnected and dated feel. Weaver holds her own, but the character, the scene and the script are a total drag.
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content including an assault, language and some drug use
Credits: Directed by Thom Fitzgerald, script by Brad Hennig. A Momentum release.
Running time: 1:33