Hurricane Bianca *
Starring: Roy Haylock, Bianca Leigh, Rachel Dratch, Willam Belli, DJ Shangela Pierce
Director: Matt Kugelman
Since her triumph in Season 6 of RuPaul's Drag Race, Bianca Del Rio has gone from strength to strength, touring the world with her Rolodex Of Hate Tour, consolidating her position as probably the most famous and popular alum to emerge from the show. But for a drag queen whose main talent is supposedly comedy, her first feature film is remarkably unfunny. So much so that you can't help but wonder if the director has deliberately removed all the gags out of spite, because what's left is a whole series of comic setups that never actually get to their punchlines.
The film follows Richard (Haylock), a high school chemistry teacher and struggling stand-up comic (oh the irony). Leaving New York to take a job in Texas, he suffers a disastrous first day and subsequnetly falls foul of his new school's homophobic vice-principal (Dratch), who fires him for being gay. With the help of a transgender radio reporter (Leigh), Richard assumes the drag persona of Bianca Del Rio and interviews to become his replacement at the school, intent on both proving his worth as a teacher and exacting revenge on those who have wronged him.
If you think you've heard this story before, then you're completely right. Hurricane Bianca is trying to be Tootsie for the twenty-first century, but its high school setting means that trying to believe that a group of teenagers wouldn't see straight through Del Rio's "drag clown" persona asks for a somewhat enormous suspension of disbelief. Richard is fired for going against the grain of the school, so it's more than just a coincidence that a hugely flamboyant and exaggerated woman of remarkably similar proportions arrives as his replacement. Where Tootsie goes to great lengths put distance between its two characters, Hurricane Bianca does nothing of the kind.
At times, the film feels like it's trying to be a parody, while at others it feels like a wink-wink-nudge-nudge catalogue of in-jokes for Drag Race fans in the know. Either of these would be fine by themselves, but in trying to combine the two, it fails to really deliver on either count. Its script is remarkably weak and what should have been its biggest strength - Haylock's bitchy one-liners - has been forsaken in favour of situational comedy, when the situations themselves aren't even remotely funny. Even stood in front of a class of horrible students, the Del Rio signature insults aren't given real opportunity to blossom, instead subjecting us to fart-jokes and teen movie clichés. And despite the rostra of comeos dropping willy-nilly, even they aren't given moments to burn bright or burn fast in even a vague attempt to elevate this dreary script.
As usual, Willam is the strongest of the bunch with his natural acid wit. Shangela makes for an amusing sidekick, but as the writer sets up an enormous gag for the pair in the final act, it seems like he actually forgot to finish the joke, which is left hanging in the air unfulfilled. And this is a recurring motif throughout the film. Alyssa Edwards is rolled in as the (decidedly weak) inspiration for Richard's drag persona, but what could have led to an amusing makeover sequence is inexplicably not included. RuPaul himself recurs as a weather reporter threatening the arrival of Hurricane Bianca physicalising the eponymous metaphor of the title, so surely there should actually have been some adverse weather at some point in the film? And when the plot is clearly steering toward some great act of revenge in the final act, why even then are we not subjected to the Del Rio bile finally turned up to full volume? Instead we are subjected to a lacklustre anticlimax, feeling like the director was completely afraid to really let his star be the star.
It's difficult to know what Hurricane Bianca is. On paper it looks like a prestige piece for the success of Bianca Del Rio, but in reality is little more than a B-movie flop. Its low-key Netflix release means that it's not really a Drag Race cash-in and its low budget indicates pretty low expectations for it. In reality, Bianca Del Rio's appeal goes far beyond just the niche Drag Race has carved out for her. A movie like this should have been the vehicle to find her more fans, but unfortunately Hurricane Bianca will do little more than brick her further into that corner. Somewhere out there is a script that will really showcase the talent of Bianca Del Rio, but unfortunately, Hurricane Bianca is definitely not it.
OUT NOW TO WATCH ON NETFLIX.