Sissyboy: Behind the Makeup

From Portland, Katie Turinski's insiderish, affectionate documentary follows a dozen guys who perform "shock drag" in the model of San Francisco's famous Trannyshack cabaret. Well shot and edited, the 2008 film keeps performance clips mercifully short; Turinski seems to recognize that what's funny for liquored-up nightclubbers doesn't generally translate for sober filmgoers. Instead she concentrates on the performers and their personal lives, Behind the Music–style. Tales of meth addiction and alcoholism, of family rejection and reconciliation...well, we like these fellows, too, but they don't have much new to say about growing up gay and searching for self-acceptance. Most of Sissyboy consists of the members of Sissyboy talking about how great Sissyboy is. (It's "a step toward not apologizing anymore," says one performer. "Be the monster," says another.) No one else's voice is heard. That the queeny old Liza-impersonation school of drag has passed, we know. In its place, Sissyboy makes a musical burlesque of anorexia, suicide bombers, and even the murder of Matthew Shepard. Their motto? "Cocktails, abortion, and anger." There's zero context for these provocateurs, who make a short road trip in 2007 that stops at Seattle's Club Lagoon. It all looks like fun, but in a you-had-to-be-there kind of way. (The group has since disbanded.) But when driving north on I-5 in a RV borrowed from one guy's parents, the Sissyboys can't help singing along to "Like a Prayer." Putting transgression and politics aside, there's always room for a little pleasure.

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