Seen: 17th June (Sydney Film Festival)
Possibly the most popular thing that I’ve ever done on this site would be the recaps of Drag Race. This doesn’t surprise me, that show is obscenely popular and the fans will read literally anything that has to do with their favourite show. While the show itself is now justifiably labelled a phenomenon, there are a few of the queens who have really taken what the show gave them (a platform to dive from) and used it to its full potential. Easily one of the most popular queens from Drag Race is the Barbie Doll-esque skinny legend herself, Trixie Mattel. Known for her big blonde hair, love of bright pink outfits and the darkest sense of humour that has ever come from someone wearing a giant pink wig and a pink Barbie doll dress. She has become an icon, a legend, a star the likes of which we’ve seen several times before but she does it while in heels and making jokes that would make George Carlin go “Bitch, too far”. She makes albums, she’s a Funko pop (which I own, no judging allowed) and now she has her very own documentary following her life on the road during a tumultuous time in her career.
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts follows Trixie Mattel AKA Brian Firkus (who I will be referring to as Trixie for the remainder of this review because the movie is named after Trixie and it’s the name most people know, plus it’d feel really weird for me to keep typing “Brian” when I only know her as Trixie) in a weird stage of her life, late 2017 to early 2018 when she had several things happening all at once. For starters, she had to record her second album One Stone which would be released alongside the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. On top of that, she also had to just deal with the insane press tour for All-Stars and her own insane touring schedule for her one-woman show that went all around the world. This would all be hard enough to deal with and make for a meaty documentary in itself but at the same time she was doing a show for Viceland called Trixie & Katya. During the taping of one of the episodes of that show her co-star and friend, Katya Zamalodchikova, suffered a mental breakdown and ended up going to rehab. There is obviously more detail about what Katya was going through (some of which is hinted at in the documentary) but it’s not my place to go into it, however, Katya herself does talk about it on the first episode of her podcast Whimsically Volatile so if you want full context then go listen to that. So, while Trixie has to deal with a whirlwind year for her career she is constantly worrying about her friend and that battle between personal worries and professional responsibilities is what runs through the film… and here you thought you were just getting a film about a man putting on face paint.
There is a real honesty to this film that I was genuinely impressed by. Trixie didn’t hold a single thing back and the director clearly had no problems just sneaking up when Trixie didn’t think anyone was watching her so he could capture moments where she can’t deal with the stress. What really comes across in this film is how insanely hard Trixie works and how much of herself she puts into every single thing that she does, so when her best friend is not only unreachable but is clearly not well seeing her try to work through that stress and pain is heartbreaking. For anyone who has followed Trixie’s work on Drag Race and beyond, it’s a side of her that they might not be used to seeing because she is such a professional that you would never know that on the day she was doing a big show she got a pretty upsetting message from a loved one or that she paid off a family members bills, things like this just let us see a side that we really are never meant to see. We’re meant to see the 6-foot tall candy confection that tells jokes about rim jobs between folk songs, so seeing the human being beyond that is fascinating.
You can really tell that Trixie just trusted the director, who really does a great job shooting the film which has to move between dimly lit gay bars, giant theatres and hotel rooms without ever feeling cheap. The best moments come when it’s just the director and Trixie, usually, while Trixie’s in front of a mirror and they’re just talking. We get these great little insights that really make you fall more in love with her. Yes, fans loved her for her comedy, her looks, the fact that she’s a skinny legend who comes with her own life-size Barbie Dream Car but now we get to love this fully fledged person who let us in when the world was simultaneously embracing her and blowing up all around her. She was finally able to proclaim herself a winner, while also having a friend in rehab and an undoubtedly full on tour schedule that clearly was exhausting her.
Where the film falters just a little is it’s editing, it will linger on a clip from the World of Wonder channel for as long as it can (no shock, it’s a world of wonder film) but often will overplay those clips to the point where I may as well just fire up YouTube and watch a supercut from their web series. Some of the editing just doesn’t flow, it loses its pace because they either showed a clip or want to play a full song or do something that ends up hurting the flow of the film. Most of the time it works, but when the editing stumbles it just makes the film drag… and not in a fun way.
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts is a peek behind the pink beaded fringe curtain at the man pulling the strings. It tears away the glamour that the audience has placed on the queens of Drag Race and reveals just what goes in to create the entertainment we crave. While the subject matter is niche, the story of an artist trying to keep doing their art while important people in their personal lives are going through hell is a powerful story that is engaging from start to finish. While the film is taking us along on the emotional rollercoaster that Trixie was going through, her trademark dark humour helps make the journey an enjoyable one.