Mousy, neurotic Myron Breckinridge (Reed) secretly receives gender-reassignment surgery in Copenhagen and returns to Hollywood as the glamorous, charismatic Myra (Welch). Posing as her own widow, Myra Breckinridge goes to her uncle Buck Loner's acting school, claiming that Myron is dead and that she is owed half the school and a huge inheritance. To pacify her while he verifies her claims, Buck gives Myra a teaching position. But Myra has bigger plans.
Myra's ultimate goal is to save humanity from itself by destroying the entire concept of traditional masculinity, thus bringing about gender equality. She plans to do this by sleeping with a lot of people. Myra's unlikely partner-in-crime is...Myron, a mental manifestation of her former self. The two of them have already lined up Myra's first test subjects: Rusty, a young, hunky, clueless would-be actor, and his sweet, submissive girlfriend Mary Ann, who together represent the very binary Myra believes is the root of all human misery.
This synopsis makes the plot sound much, much more coherent than it actually is.
In reality, it's a psychedelic rollercoaster full of random public-domain movie clips, musical numbers, costume changes, over-the-top stereotypes, and a questionable grasp of how gender and sexuality (not to mention human beings) actually work. A legendary box-office flop, creator Gore Vidal later disowned it, the cast won't talk about it, and lead actress Raquel Welch once commented, "The only good thing about it was the clothes."
Myra Breckinbridge contains examples of:
- Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the novel, Myra is injured in a car accident, has to have her breasts removed, and ends up reverting to her life as Myron and living in a Sexless Marriage with Mary Ann. Myron's actor Rex Reed refused to portray this ending and it changed to the All Just a Dream resolution of the film.
- Adapted Out: In the book, one of Myra's colleagues at the academy is the lesbian teacher Miss Cluff. She also became acquainted with a hippy called Clem, whose orgiastic parties she attended. Both are unaccounted for in the movie (although the scene where Myra is singing in a bathtub at a party does come from one of Clem's parties in the book).
- All Just a Dream: It's strongly suggested through the scenes at the start and at the end with Myron in the hospital that Myra's life—complete with Myron's own sporadic pop-ups as her alter ego, the last of which was him running her over in order to die as himself—was all a dream of Myron's prior to a gender reassignment surgery that presumably didn't take. This is honestly the least unfortunate and terrifying interpretation of the story, and Rex Reed wouldn't play the part otherwise.
- And You Were There: Part of the All Just A Dream ending above. Myron awakes after his accident to find that his alter-ego Myra was inspired by a magazine cover of the real Raquel Welch and that Mary Ann is his nurse.
- Black Comedy Rape: In arguably the film's most (in)famous scene, Myra rapes Rusty with a strap-on, set to a psychedelic montage of old movie clips and one-liners.
- Blackmail: Myra blackmails Rusty into letting her "examine" him. She also blackmails Uncle Buck into giving her the job in the first place by pretending Myron is her late husband.
- Camp Gay: Irving, who wears makeup and jewelry.
- Casting Couch: Inverted by Leticia Van Allen, who does this with hot male actors rather than would-be starlets. (Her office has an enormous satin-draped four-poster bed hidden behind a wall.)
- Celebrity Paradox: Among the films whose clips appear in this film is One Million Years B.C., which features this film's star Raquel Welch. This appears to be Foreshadowing that the events of the film are actually Myron's dream while in a hospital, and that he modelled Myra's appearance on Welch herself, from a magazine.
- Coming-Out Story: The film is basically a gay man's fantasy about his struggle with coming out of the closet.
- Depraved Bisexual: Myra, who seems to be bisexual only to further her obscure, insane goals at the cost of other people.
- Dirty Old Woman: Leticia Van Allen keeps a king-sized bed as a casting couch for the hot young men who step into her office. (It's Mae West, what the hell do you expect?)
- The Ditz: Mary Ann is sweet and trusting, but not exactly bright.
- Dumb Muscle: Rusty comes off as a man's man, but turns out to be incredibly gullible.
- Double Entendre: Most of what Leticia Van Allen says.Leticia Van Allen: Hi cowboy, how tall are you without your horse?
Stud: Well ma'am, I'm 6 feet 7 inches.
Leticia Van Allen: Well, never mind about the 6 feet, let's talk about the 7 inches.
- Easy Sex Change / Magic Plastic Surgery: From Rex Reed into Raquel Welch. Justified, though, as It was All Just a Dream.
- False Widow: Myra claims to be Myron's widow in order to get her own inheritance.
- Foreshadowing: Among the films whose clips appear in this film is One Million Years B.C., which features Raquel Welch, something particularly conspicious given that it was a relatively recent film at the time and most of the films featured were old black-and-white films. This appears to predict the reveal that the events of the film are actually Myron's dream while in a hospital, and that he modelled Myra's appearance on Welch herself, from a magazine.
- Incompatible Orientation: Myra attempts to seduce Mary Ann as part of her plan to Take Over the World, only to be thwarted in the simplest possible way: Mary Ann is straight. Ironically, Mary Ann tries to let her down sweetly by saying that Myra is exactly the sort of person she'd fall for if only Myra was a man.
- Lame Comeback: When Buck and Charlie Flagler Jr. accuse Myra of having never been married to Myron, she says she'll bring a witness to prove her case. Thus, this exchange:Myra: I trust his word will be sufficient. (turns and leaves)
Charlie: (shouting after her) Let me make it perfectly clear that it... might.
- Lovable Sex Maniac: Subverted and arguably deconstructed with Myra.
- Mind Screw: The entire movie is very bizarre and doesn't have much of a coherent plot (some of this is because it leaves out a lot of context from the book).
- Missing Steps Plan: It's unclear just how, exactly, sleeping with a bunch of people will result in universal gender equality, but that's a risk Myra's willing to take.
- Mood Whiplash: The aftermath of the aforementioned rape scene. The whole movie up until now has been a batshit trainwreck, and the scene itself is clearly supposed to be Black Comedy Rape. But afterwards Rusty seems so numb with shock that he's almost been reduced to a child, asking if he can please leave now and obediently thanking Myra when she demands it. It's a disturbingly plausible reaction to being raped.
- The Movie Buff: Myra is fascinated with Old Hollywood movies and extremely knowledgeable about cinema.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the book, Myra (and the reader) finds that in spite of his sexism and homophobia, in practice Rusty was gentle and considerate towards the women in his life, but that after the assault, he began taking his rage out on women, even raping Leticia violently enough to put her in the hospital. (Fortunately, Leticia's into that sort of thing, but Rusty didn't know that when he did it.)
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Assuming she isn't an outright Villain Protagonist, our protagonist Myra is a seductive, manipulative, blackmailing, sex-maniacal sadist, and the story doesn't seem to have a problem with it.
- Screw Yourself: Myra kisses Myron and goes down on him. Then Myron has a fantasy about Mary Ann and Myra seemingly vanishes while Myron masturbates. (Note that nothing like this is in the book.)
- Sobriquet Sex Switch: After undergoing a sex change, Myron becomes Myra.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Goofy music plays during a rape scene.
- Stock Footage: Old movie clips appear often, many times for comedy's sake. Many of the depicted people complained and sued about this, and the White House downright asked for the removal of a Shirley Temple clip given she was by then an U.S. ambassador.
- Take Over the World: Part of the motive for Myra's reassignment surgery is that she plans to singlehandedly destroy the very concept of gender by sleeping with everyone, thus bringing equality to the sexes. Or something.
- That Man Is Dead: Aside from Myra pretending to be Myron's widow to fool Buck, Myra genuinely thinks of her pre-op self Myron as a separate person who died, and from whom she emerged. He's a very lively ghost, though.
- Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Myra, when she lifts up her skirt and drops her panties in front of Uncle Buck and his lawyers, declaring "Gentlemen…I am Myron Breckinridge!"
- Villain Protagonist: Unless it's just Protagonist-Centered Morality, Myra is a seductive, manipulative, blackmailing, sex-maniacal sadist, and she's the protagonist of the story.
- Visual Pun: While Myra rapes Rusty, the stock footage shows a clip of dockworkers literally laying plank. That this is the funniest of the dozens of similar visual puns in this movie may indicate the general quality of the humor.
- Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Myra's iconic star-spangled swimsuit.