Hurricane Bianca (2016)

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three star

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It’s honestly not at all fair for me to make this comparison, since Bianca Del Rio (the drag persona of local boy-made-good Roy Haylock) was already a success long before she appeared on the show, but the campy drag queen comedy Hurricane Bianca feels like a sketch from RuPaul’s Drag Race stretched to a feature length film. The comedy sketches have never been the highlight of that show, which is more about fashion artistry & reality show competition than drag-themed SNL skits, but every now & then the right performer can make them worthwhile. Bianca Del Rio was already a fully developed talent by the time she arrived at (and won) Drag Race, so selling the comedy in the show’s aggressively corny bits was second nature to her. She actually might be the most over-qualified queen in the history of the show to helm a feature length broad comedy like Hurricane Bianca, which is even below such prestige-free ventures as SNL‘s Superstar & It’s Pat! movies in terms of production quality. Cameos & bit roles from Drag Race standouts like Willam, Alyssa Edwards, and RuPaul himself (out of drag, as a weatherman) only reinforce the film’s general expanded Drag Race sketch vibe and your enjoyment in (and patience with) Hurricane Bianca might depend largely on how much fun you have with that aspect of the show.

Presented as a storybook fairy tale (or, in the film’s terms, the tale of a fairy), Hurricane Bianca stars Haylock as a queer high school teacher from NYC who’s forced to find work in rural Texas to make do. Headed by an unusually hateful Rachel Dratch (applying her trademark SNL-style mugging to her role as a bigoted bully), the group of Conservative Texans this hopeless nerd science teacher/failed stand-up comedian interlopes reject him outright as a pariah (“There’s something queer about him. I just can’t put my finger on it.”) and our put-upon hero once again finds himself jobless. Then, in a plot straight out of an aborted Adam Sandler screenplay, the teacher gets re-hired at the same school as a woman, adopting his meant-to-be Bianca Del Rio persona almost 2/3rds into the runtime. Del Rio presents a dichotomy where drag equals confidence and the teacher transforms from a timid nerd to an instant queen bitch. Her Don Rickles insult-clown routine destroys the false superiority of Dratch’s evil bigot antagonist and the teen bullies who do such delightful things as take “Smear the queer” selfies with the one openly gay student in their school, whom they abuse daily. Strangely mirroring the third act of The Dressmaker, Hurricane Bianca gradually transforms into an absurd revenge fantasy in which drag queens have their day and the evil Texan Christians are put in their place by such cartoonish weapons as Bugs Bunny gags & surprise swarms of bees.

It’s difficult to say if Hurricane Bianca works as a starmaker for Del Rio, since it is such a for-fans-only proposition. The film is so cartoonishly silly & unapologetically queer that it’s bound to appeal to a very limited subset of camp-minded dorks, likely the exact crowd who would have followed Bianca’s career closely enough to hear about this very minor release in the first place. It very much feels like a SNL movie or a WWE Studios production in that way and, as a trash-gobbling dork myself, I would love nothing more than for Drag Race as a brand to keep making small scale movies that appeal only to its own insular audience (starting with Alyssa Edwards’s Ambrosia Salad character from this film, preferably). Within that limited scope framework, Hurricane Bianca is a resounding success. It provides Del Rio with a larger platform for her insult comedy, gives Haylock an excuse to appear out of drag to hopefully expand his familiarity, and actually has a surprisingly political bent to it between its sillier moments, especially in the way it spoofs the bigotry of Texan Christianity & attempts to provide hope for queer high school students who are continually bullied by their peers. I can’t say that if you aren’t already on board with Del Rio that you will be surprised & won over by what Hurricane Bianca provides. If you’re already a fan & you don’t often find yourself fast-forwarding through the sketch comedy bits on RuPaul’s Drag Race, however, you’ll likely have a gay ol’ time.

-Brandon Ledet

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