If you want someone to ace the role of a sensitive gay teen, Alex Lawther (‘The Imitation Game’, ‘Departure’) is your man. The British actor is immediately likeable here as Billy Bloom, a sparky young cross-dresser who has a blast playing dress-up with his glamorous mother (Bette Midler), but doesn’t find the natives quite so welcoming in a new school. Despite dressing down for the first day, he fails to win any friends with his Adam Ant look, but gradually allies emerge and Billy tries to open the minds of the sheltered youngsters, while fostering a crush on the school hunk, Flip (Ian Nelson).
Based on the semi-autobiographical book by James St James, Trudie Styler’s directorial debut is an enjoyable affair, while not probing as deep as it might. Bloom’s struggles with both school and family are gently involving and occasionally amusing, and Lawther and Midler are terrific together. Not all the casting works: John McEnroe makes an odd appearance as a football coach, while Abigail Breslin feels miscast as the Queen Bee whose homophobic rants still have a sadly authentic feel – this will likely resonate with anyone who has tried to reason with an obstinately closed mind.
‘Freak Show’ errs on the heavy-handed side, but it’s got a good heart, a spring in its step and a passion for glamour – an easy watch for fans of the coming-of-age genre, and a treat for those who share its hero’s love of all things feathered and fabulous.