Although it’s only controversial at the whims of zealots, drag is always political, even when the focus is personal. Perhaps it’s even more downright political, in the current climate of conservatives criminalizing drag, that Todd Flaherty’s endearing musical dramedy Chrissy Judy takes as a given every drag queen’s right to exist.
The film, in which writer/director Flaherty also stars as drag chanteuse Judy Blu’em, unfolds around Judy’s struggle to figure out what kind of drag performer she’ll be. That entails Judy’s alter ego — that is, his gay male self — figuring out what he’ll do and who he’ll be after drag sister Chrissy Snow (Wyatt Fenner) breaks up their double-act to head off and shack up with her new man.
The movie’s plot, old-school sensibilities, and black-and-white cinematography (shot by Flaherty’s brother, Brendan), suggest a ’40s musical melodrama amid the very contemporary story of two young gay friends with lives moving in diverging directions.
“I think there’s something really romantic about black-and-white films that I wanted to juxtapose with the story of a friendship,” Flaherty tells Metro Weekly. “I just think there’s something really timeless about this story.”
In the film, Judy, suddenly unmoored from his friendship with Chrissy, spirals messily from Fire Island to Philly to P’Town, both onstage and off, searching for his own identity.
“I think that there is something to this idea of these gay friendships that help us grow and help us move through life,” says Flaherty. “So I wanted someone to be able to watch the film and not know if it was filmed in 2020 or 2030.
“Despite the device of some cell phones and conversations about Instagram, or a little technology here and there, we really didn’t cement the story in a time period with any chatter of politics or pop culture.”
Referencing classic movies and queer touchstones like Andrew Holleran’s 1978 novel Dancer from the Dance, both the film and Judy are a trove of 20th-century pop culture. But one particular Golden Oldie stands out among the movie’s nods to gay history, as Judy clearly shares her song repertoire with The Golden Girls‘ Dorothy Zbornak.
“I thought it would be interesting to show Judy as this character who maybe discovered her love of this work through Dorothy Zbornak, maybe discovered it through Judy Garland, but also was trying to do something that most drag artists don’t do today, which is kind of hearken to this old torch song singer,” says Flaherty. “And it’s been fun to see people pick up on the Golden Girls reference of those songs, specifically.”
The movie’s characters are fluent in gay vernacular, but the story, Flaherty insists, he intended for everyone.
“Ultimately, I really wanted to make a queer story for queer people, and I hope that I was successful in doing that,” he says. “I think it’s been interesting going on the festival circuit with this film because, while it does really speak to a queer audience, and that’s what most of our festivals have been, it has been nice to see the universality of the story and its connection with audiences.”
Anyone regardless of sexuality can relate to the pain of losing a friend, but, says Flaherty, “I just wanted to give a window into these really important friendships that, specifically, gay men have. I can’t say that I could be a voice for the entire queer culture and population, but I definitely can speak to my experience as a gay man and how essential these friendships are, and how essential chosen family is, and the pain of what it is to move on from those relationships. But also the inevitability of moving in and out of friendships in that way.”
Chrissy Judy is playing in select theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and P’Town, and is available on April 4 through VOD and digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, and Google Play. Visit www.darkstarpics.com.
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