Review: ‘Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts’

Hot Docs 2019

6 mins read

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts
(USA, 91 min.)
Dir. Nick Zeig-Owens
Programme: Nightvision (International Premiere)

Pardon the pun, but the Trixie Mattel doc is a bit of a drag. Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts goes behind the scenes with drag queen, singer, influencer, and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season three champion Trixie Matel né(e) Brian Firkus. It’s a fun and often frank character study, but as a film, it’s all over the place and it long overstays the welcome of its 91-minute running time. The aspects of representation are undeniably valuable, although they’ve been conveyed in better films and with stronger spokespeople, or even in the few episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race this reviewer has seen.

Trixie Mattel essentially has three moving parts as the doc follows Trixie on her tour with the new album, her return to RuPaul’s Drag Race, and behind the scenes of her YouTube series turned TV show hosted with fellow drag queen Katya Zamolodchikova. The latter narrative provides the film with its meatiest sparks as Trixie and Katya struggle with the spotlight differently and test the limits of their friendship. The Trixie and Katya Show seems to be their winning ticket when the doc begins, but once they hit it big, and only after Trixie spends two hours in the make-up chair for their next shoot, Katya has a melt-down as she realizes that she should focus on her health and check into rehab. There’s some really great material here as the doc intimately looks at the pressures of fame and the weight of holding onto reality once stardom takes control. As Trixie’s stock rises with her return to Drag Race, Katya becomes bitter and resentful, like a cloud that denies her friend the ray of sunshine she deserves.

It’s clear that Trixie worked hard for the spotlight and overcame a lot since being an outsider in Wisconsin. Seated in her garage, where the dirty concrete floor contrasts with her loud outfits, lacquered nails, pink shoes, and opulent bouffant, Mattel reveals her backstory to director Nick Zeig-Owens and bares all about the life she escaped. She doesn’t dwell on the violence she endured at the hands of her alcoholic step-father, nor of the relative indifference her mother had when she decided to save herself by leaving the family home as a teen. Instead, the doc focuses on how Mattel infuses her routine and music by drawing inspiration from the darkness she escaped. It’s no wonder that the brightness and gaiety of her Dolly Parton meets Divine persona inspires so many younger people as they come to terms with their sexuality.

However, Trixie Mattel herself can sometimes be her film’s worst enemy. It isn’t clear what she (nor the director) is trying to achieve with the project beyond a respectable profile that offers exposure and raises her brand. For example, Zeig-Owens goes backstage with Trixie while on tour promoting her new folk album Now With Moving Parts and the camera watches as she interacts with fans who tell her that her fearlessness and spunky spirit saved their lives. Maybe it’s the camera angle or maybe she’s just tired, but Trixie comes across as bored and indifferent whenever members of the queer community tell her that they give her strength.

However, if one focuses on the stories of the young fans and Trixie’s own personal history, as well of the ability of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race to create positive space for the drag scene and queer representation, the doc admirably highlights the significance of drag culture as a life preserver for the queer community. Trixie knows how to work a camera and when she’s “on” she’s on. The film can be a riot when she reflects on transformation with the self-deprecating humour that endears her to fans. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will inevitably get a kick of looking into the world of one of the show’s success stories, while virgins of the drag scene might be better off simply binge-watching the show that made Trixie a star.

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts screens:
-Sat, Apr. 27 at 9:30 p.m. at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
-Sun, Apr. 28 at 3:30 p.m. at TIFF Lightbox
-Fri, May 3 at 8:45 p.m. at TIFF Lightbox
-Sat, May 4 at 9:45 p.m. at TIFF Lightbox

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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