Director: Shaz Bennett
Running Time: 89 mins
Release Date: March 23rd 2018 (BFI Flare Screening)
Leo (Martin L. Washington Jr.) is a young man living in a tough part of Alaska. He and his twin sister, Tristen (Maya Washington), were abandoned by their mother when they were young and re now trapped between a desire for escape and fear that this will mean their mother will never be able to find them. To make matters worse, Tristen is battling cancer.
Working in the masculine environment of a fish gutting/processing factory, Leo’s sexuality is an issue for some of the others working there. However, his boss, Diego (Jason Scott Lee) spots possibility in him and introduces him to boxing, something that initially seems contradictory to Leo’s desire for drag superstardom. Leo befriends new guy Declan (Matt Dallas), who seems intrigued by someone so different to the rough, tough world around them. Declan says he’s straight and isn’t afraid to use his fists to prove it, but as with some of the other men in town, things may be more complex than they first appear.
Based on a 2012 short film of the same name, Alaska Is A Drag has expanded out its story of a flamboyant young man dealing with masculine braggadocio and homophobia while working in a fish cannery in Alaska. It’s also brought in a couple of recognisable faces, such as Kyle XY’s Matt Dallas, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’s Jason Scott Lee, and comedian Margaret Cho, while keeping the same talented young man in the middle, Martin L. Washington Jr.. He’s very good but as with the rest of the cast is slightly hamstrung by a script that’s trying to do too much and doesn’t have enough time to deal with it all.
In its effort to ensure as many characters as possible are fleshed-out and have a journey to go on, Alaska Is A Drag reaches too far and verges into soap opera territory. The result is that it feels like many elements aren’t properly dealt with, to the point where despite it initially seeming central and being mentioned in the title, Leo’s drag ambitions become an afterthought, and while there’s interesting potential in the way his drag personal is juxtaposed and merged with the boxing, it’s never resolved. Likewise, Declan is a complex character, but there’s so little time to deal with the shifts his character goes through that it sometimes feels a little arbitrary.
You have to applaud the film for its ambition and it knows there’s plenty to unpack in the story of a young genderqueer person pulled in different directions and living in a town that’s not designed to deal with them. While it’s never dull and much of it is entertaining and thoughtful, it’s impossible to escape the feeling that Alaska Is A Drag could have been more than it is. There’s so much potential here and so much talent both in front of and behind the camera, but it would have been better to focus on the core of its story rather than reaching off in directions that become distractions. Indeed, there are too many aspects of the central story that it completely misses, because it’s busy doing things it doesn’t need to.
It’s a shame, but thankfully it doesn’t mean the film is a write off. Martin L. Washington Jr. is great and helps ensure you want to keep watching and that irrespective of the messiness of some the film, you’ll be rooting for something to happen between Leo and Declan.
Overall Verdict: Alaska Is A Drag has plenty of potential, but rather than concentrating on that it tries to do too much in too many different places. The result is a film that’s interesting to watch, but could have been much more.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac
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