Fabulous, fierce and queer escapism
Leave it on the Floor is an in-your-face fictional peek into the Los Angeles drag and vogue ball scene. Glossy, colorful, loud and vibrant, Floor withholds none of the weapons in its musical arsenal. The audience is bombarded with song, dance, glitter, glamour, snapping fingers and bitchy repartee almost to the point of ridiculousness.
But Leave it on the Floor, playing Saturday at the Milwaukee LGBT Film and Video Festival, dials itself back at just the right moments in order to avoid being bloated by over-the-top cheesiness and self-aware gratuitousness. It definitely does not take itself too seriously.
So in the grand tradition of kicked-out queers, Brad goes searching for a home, for community and for a bit of fun. He cruises young cutie Carter (Andre Meyers) at a gas station and, in a brilliant thematic move, both Brad and Carter pick-pocket each other in some sort of quasi-criminal courtship dance. Of course, Brad then follows Carter on his way to a drag ball and embarks on a down-the-rabbit-hole journey into the L.A. vogue-ing scene. Brad becomes immediately immersed, partly because assimilating himself into this scene assures a roof over his head, but also because he loves it.
The film positions drag balls as alternative families. The people that populate these runways are quite literally organized into “houses,” each house being run by a drag “mother.” The idea of lineage is very real.
Leave it on the Floor is obviously paying homage to Jennie Livingston’s seminal 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning which, for the first time, illuminated drag balls to a wide audience. Much about these balls is still the same. Performers bring their mix of swagger and sexual bravado to the catwalk in costumes, makeup and hair that would make Lady Gaga do a double-take. But Floor is not simply some piece of entertaining fluff, it concerns itself with the importance of alternative family constructions for queers (albeit by showcasing half-naked dudes strutting their stuff on the runway).
It’s important to note that while Floor presents alternative family constructions, it also presents alternative subjectivities. These drag performers are all African-American, queer and disenfranchised. But it is their resilience that is exalted. We don’t feel bad for these queer people of color, rather we feel energized by them. They are not victims, they are fabulous. One performer, Eppie Durall, is constantly touting her pregnancy which, as a biological male, is impossible. But the film ignores such impossibilities and rewards Eppie in the end with twins. It is escapism, yes, but escapism that references — in a very cheeky manner — real concerns for queers.
Carter and Brad share a particularly well-choreographed salsa dance high above downtown L.A. about not committing suicide. Dealing with these heavy topics through song and dance acknowledges real problems but allows the viewer to escape from them.
Through an unfortunately formulaic plot that jerks the viewer from one anticipated plot point to the next, director Sheldon Larry shows all the typical tropes of the musical film: lying, betrayal, attraction, coupling and acceptance. However, that is not what’s important here. What matters is the character’s unceasing triumphant spirit, their unrelinquished hope that they’ll make it big; that they’ll be stars. But, of course, at least in the fantastical and insular world of these drag balls, they already are.
For more information on the Milwaukee LGBT Film and Video Festival, see TCD’s preview.