1995 comedy about a trio of Drag Queens
on a road trip to compete in a national pageant. If this sounds familiar at all, that's because The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
was released in the previous year, with a similar premise and equally-unwieldy name. However, while Priscilla
was steeped in realism, To Wong Foo
opts for the Rule of Funny
. That is, we never see the men out of drag even though they're not transsexual
(female pronouns are used for the sake of convenience), and the people they encounter don't know they're men at first.
Female impersonators and close friends Vida Bohemme (the late Patrick Swayze
) and Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes
) tie for a state-level drag pageant in New York City
and win a trip to Los Angeles
to compete in the national. On their way backstage, they run into competitor Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo
), distraught that she lost. Seeing a diamond in the rough, charitable Vida manages to convince Noxie to take Chi-Chi with them to Hollywood while teaching her the ways of drag. To pay Chi-Chi's way, the girls sell their plane tickets (something else that doesn't thrill Noxie) for an old but stylish convertible and embark on their 2,000-mile journey.
About halfway through the trip and following some minor episodes, the girls are pulled over in the Midwest
by a racist sheriff. He insults Noxie and Chi-Chi and tries to rape Vida, who punches him out just as he realizes something isn't right.
The girls flee, thinking him dead. A few hours later their car breaks down on the road, and Chi-Chi hitches them a ride to the nearest town. However, the mechanic has to order the necessary parts which won't be in for a couple days, leaving the girls stuck in "Gay Hell" with the Not Quite Dead
but quite humiliated sheriff on their trail.
Swayze and Leguizamo were nominated for Golden Globes, and the film remains a guilty pleasure, especially for queer men who were kids when it was released.
Contains the following tropes:
- Accidental Misnaming: Do not mistake Sheriff Dollard's name for "Dullard".
- Agent Peacock: Vida and Noxie do some asswhoopin'
- The Alleged Car: The yellow Cadillac, which doubles with Cool Car. It was chosen for its glamour rather than functionality, a decision that later comes back to haunt them when it breaks in the middle of "Gay Hell".
- Armoured Closet Gay: Sheriff Dollard's long monologue in the bar sounds like he's interested in men, but can't quite figure out that he is. Moments later, he gives Virgil an approving look.
- As You Know: Noxie gives a quick rundown of different genderqueer types, which Chi-Chi already knows for the most part, before getting to the point that Chi-Chi not yet a drag queen but a mere "boy in a dress".
- Attempted Rape: First attempted with Vida (or at least a molestation), and later with Chi-Chi vs. some roughnecks.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Sheriff Dollard is beguiled by Vida (at first), and Chi Chi manages to woo Bobby Ray. Admittedly, John Leguizamo makes a very convincing woman, as does Swayze.
- Avengers Assemble: The various drag queens getting ready for the pageant in the movie's opening credits.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Chi-Chi winning the pageant at the end.
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Sheriff Dollard.
- Badass Boast: Chi Chi delivers two at once:
I'm the Latina Marilyn Monroe
. I got more legs than a bucket of chicken!
- Blithe Spirit: The girls serve as this to the people of Snydersville.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Blonde Vida, Redheaded (most of the times!) Noxie and Brunette Chi-Chi.
- Bystander Syndrome: Noxie contrasted with Vida's "foolish" compassion.
Vida: Virgil's beating up Carol Ann
Noxie: (unconcerned) Most likely
Vida: We have to help her!
- The Cameo: RuPaul, Naomi Campbell, Robin Williams, and Ms. Newmar herself.
- Captain Obvious: When the girls meet Sheriff Dollard and he refers to Noxie and Chi-Chi as ethnic slurs, Chi-Chi makes this observation:
Chi-Chi: I think that cop is prejudiced!
Noxeema: You were the smartest one in your class, weren't you?
- Cassandra Truth: Sheriff Dollard gets this treatment from his fellow officers after blaming his "assault" on three random crossdressers.
- Cerebus Syndrome: When the plot started to focus on hotel owner Carol Ann and her abusive husband Virgil.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Vida suffers from this contrasting with Noxie's insensitivity. Lampshaded by Noxie herself.
- Cool Car: The yellow Cadillac, which doubles with The Alleged Car. They actually were given the chance to get a functional, but tasteless, grey car and declined.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Noxeema. At first she's snarky (though not deadpan) and self-serving, with a mixture of disdain and social anxiety towards the mainstream public, but warms up by the end.
- Directionless Driver: For a drag queen, Vida has a decidedly macho distaste for interstate maps.
- Down on the Farm: Much of the movie takes place in a Midwestern rural hick town where the girls are stranded.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: John "Chi-Chi" Leguizamo stands out for really looking like an attractive girl. He spent much of his stand-up career impersonating his Latina relatives, so the script played to his strengths.
- Drag Queen: Well duh!
- Embarrassing First Name: When they're being pulled over, Vida mentions that her real first name is Eugene.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: In an attempt to keep Chi-Chi from running away after being deemed a "boy in a dress", Vida says that she's not quite a Drag Queen...she's a Drag Princess.
- Fanservice: The very first scene shows Patrick Swayze coming out of the shower. Oh yeah!
- Foreign Remake: Critics claim it served as this to Priscilla.
- The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: The only clue Sheriff Dollard has to find Vida is her shoe.
- Groin Attack: Noxeema on the ringleader of the town bullies: "Like my nails?"
- He Cleans Up Nicely: The roughneck Noxeema manhandled shows up later in the movie with a cleaned-up outfit and attitude.
- Honest John's Dealership: Crazy Elijah's Used Cars. "His cars are his children."
- Housewife: Carol Ann starts as a sad example of a Housewife, she gets her happy ending.
- I Am Spartacus: When Sherrif Dollard rolls into Snydersville looking for the girls, the townspeople each claim that her shoe is theirs, eventually driving him off.
- It's Always Mardi Gras in New Orleans, as the girls conveniently show up only a couple of days before the town is about to have its only party of any sort.
- Jerkass Fašade: Noxeema is cynical, snarky and sometimes she seems to be an outright cold-hearted bitch, but in fact she is very kind and lovable, but afraid of trusting other people, since "there are people you don't trust, because they'll use it to stab you in the ribs". She drops the facade in the end.
- Late to the Punchline: If you were younger when this movie came out, Noxie's pop culture references may have taken awhile to sink in.
- Lipstick and Load Montage: Gender-flipped during the opening credits, with Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes performing it, fabulously of course. Clip is here.
- Magical Queer: Even though the girls are the main character they act as Magical Queers to the town.
- Mood Whiplash: Yeah, show the town ladies trying out 60s outfits in one scene and in the next scene Carol Anne is being abused.
- The Mountains of Illinois: Inverted. Right before the girls get pulled over by Sheriff Dollard, Noxie assumes they're in West Virginia, despite the total lack of mountains. We never do find out where Snydersville is, but Oklahoma is most likely.
- Pimped-Out Dress: The two pageant scenes. This would apply to any drag show, but it goes double here, as they were purposely strutting their stuff for the prize.
- Sassy Black Woman: Noxie.
- Shout-Out: The three main characters watch the others dance from a balcony in a clear "shoutout" to Sleeping Beauty. (They're even wearing pink, green and Chi Chi has a blue jacket over her white nightgown!)
Vida: Girls, sometimes it just takes a fairy.
- Sour Supporter: Noxie to Vida
- Spicy Latina: Chi Chi.
- Strawberry Shorthand: The town's distinguishing tradition (and one of the things that perks the trio up) is their Strawberry Social — "We all bake strawberry pies and bring them to the center of town, then we eat the pies...and then we go home." The queens convince them to go all out and try and range of strawberry themes and dress in glorious bright red.
- Stupid Sexy Flanders: John Leguizamo in drag.
- Tap on the Head: It's worse than that. Vida simply shoves Sheriff Dollard, and he's out like a light.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Chi Chi and Noxeema don't exactly hit it off. Before long, Chi Chi has stirred up bad blood with Vida, also.
- Title Drop: The movie's title comes from an autograph Vida swipes from a ritzy Chinese bistro. We never find out who Wong Foo is, but he and Ms. Newmar are given a totemic reverence throughout the movie.
- Token Trio: White Vida, Black Noxeema, and Hispanic Chi-Chi. The movie tries to counter Vida being the leader (though she's the only one who ever drives the car) by giving the other girls' plots ample screentime and Wesley Snipes top billing, but the implication is still there. Lampshaded throughout the movie, as Noxie and Chi-Chi accuse Vida of being a meddling white woman, Vida and Noxie make constant reference to Chi-Chi's "latin mess," and at one point Noxie claims to be Jesse Jackson's daughter.
- Twofer Token Minority: Noxie and Chi-Chi as gay men of color.
- Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Sheriff Dollard reacts in the worst possible way when he finds out Vida is a man, but the townsfolk...not so much. They're fooled but eventually figure it out on their own, and accept the girls all the same.
- Volleying Insults: Vida and Chi-Chi start insulting each other and it probably would go all night like that if they weren't interrupted by Virgil's beating Carol Ann.
- Wife-Basher Basher: Oh, Vida.
- World of Ham
- Wrench Wench: Carol Ann fixes the girls' Cadillac showing that she's not just a housewife.
- You Can't Go Home Again: The DQ's take a detour to see Vida's home. An old woman, presumably her mother, sees her and rolls her eyes before walking back into the house, prompting a minor Heroic BSOD in Vida.