BFI Flare: Alaska is a Drag — A bold exploration of masculinity ★★★
Alaska is a Drag is a bold and surprising film, telling the story of a fish-gutting boxer who dreams of becoming a drag superstar.
The plot follows Leo (Martin L Washington Jr), who works in a fish-canning factory but holds a hope of becoming both a boxer and a drag performer.
Moved to Alaska by his evangelical father to ‘toughen up’, Leo and his ailing twin sister Tristan (Maya Washington) dream of leaving the state in search of their mother and becoming drag stars.
However, when a stranger joins the factory, Leo struggles to balance drag, boxing and the problems his developing feelings cause — including the homophobic reactions of his colleagues.
Developed from a 2012 short film of the same name, Alaska is a Drag prompts a variety of questions about masculinity and expression with the predominantly male cast.
The mix of boxing, fish-gutting and drag may sound ridiculous on paper, yet the film expertly blends the three into the story, in the directorial debut of actor and writer Shaz Bennett.
Although the film is enjoyable and feels professional for the most part, certain features of the film feel inconsistent.
Alaska is a Drag falls into tropes including that of a scheduling issue between two opposite passions – Leo’s qualifying boxing match falls on the same day as his drag debut.
However, the conflict quickly dissipates with no explanation, avoiding some of the cliche but making the plot feel patchy at points.
Another issue with the film is with director Shaz Bennett’s choice of visual effects and CGI throughout.
A rainbow coloured northern lights appears whenever Leo performs, which at best feels rather on the nose. Overusing the rainbow flag is a cheap trick, and at worst detracts from moments of the film achieving the high emotion they deserve.
Despite this, the performances of the actors show depth and emotion and carry the film well.
Martin L Washington Jr is a remarkable Leo and shines with each nuance of the character, from light-hearted moments with his sister to the more brutal climaxes of the film.
The film’s true strength lies in its unpredictability. The film is full of lightheartedness and humour, yet is still capable of giving the audience an emotional punch to the gut when needed.
At no point in the film does the plot feel predictable or the fates of the characters a foregone conclusion. The film objectively attempts to do too much, leaving some questions unanswered and many of the subplots unrefined.
However, this does add to the film’s sense of mystery and the idea of seizing your own fate.
Alaska is a Drag prompts the audience to look inward towards their own decisions and leaves you with the lesson that there is always a way out — even from Alaska.
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