Queen Tut Review: It Serves a Royally Wholesome Story

Don't sashay away from this incredible Canadian film

Serving, slaying, and rocking the world of drag, filmmaker Reem Morsi’s Queen Tut intricately weaves the complex world of identity through a wholesome exploration. Films that represent LGBTQ+ communities often struggle to find the balance between being overly devastating (and sadly accurate) with their representation of homophobia or contrarily altogether ignoring discrimination. Only a select few films navigate this with a nuanced approach like Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and now, Queen Tut. This film exquisitely threads the needle between these sides and successfully represents the contemporary Queer world. At the same time, it delvers a powerfully universal message about identity, wholesomeness, and found families.

Queen Tut follows a young Egyptian immigrant, Nabil (Ryan Ali), who relocates to Toronto with his estranged father, Iskander (Dani Jazzar), after the death of his mother. On his journey, Nabil meets a trans drag mother, Malibu (Alexandra Billings), who fights against the demolition of her beloved gay bar, Mandy’s. Nabil, passionate about his mother’s fashion work, enlists Malibu’s seamstress skills to help create the dream dress she never had the chance to complete. As he works on making the piece, Nabil discovers that he wants to wear it too. The wholesome pair help each other to let go of what was holding them back and come to terms with where, or who, home is.

Although the film is about much more than its LGBTQ+ identity, it is imperative to note how exceptionally it captures the community. Those familiar with drag shows will recognize its ability to realistically capture the cunning and sassy attitude of the performers through its witty dialogue. The film adds to its unique flavour by mentioning local Toronto Queer bars like Flash, and includes entertaining drag shows throughout the story. But despite some outstanding drag performances, the atmosphere lacked a real connection between the performers and the community. I know the bar here, Mandy’s, isn’t Crews or Tangos, but it was missing the famed electricity of a drag show crowd. It would have elevated the experience to include more crowd-based interactions with the performers to heighten the story’s homage to Toronto’s Church Street community. But, who knows, maybe it was just an early show or a quiet Sunday night.

Queen Tut Malibu

Despite this minor critique, the cast phenomenally portrays the Queer community authentically. In particular, Alexandra Billings as Malibu immediately immerses the audience into that world. Billings breaks hearts with her kindness. Her genuine passion stems from her real-life experience, filling the screen with authenticity. Her wise words and warmth towards Nabil transcend the screen as she fights to keep her bar alive for herself, her community, and the loved one she lost. Notably, she captures this raw emotion through a powerful performance of an original song titled “I Won’t Break.” She successfully portrays a wise mentor that any struggling Queer person can appreciate and learn from, just as Nabil does.

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It helps too that Ali pairs exceptionally well with Billings to create an unforgettable atmosphere of understanding. On his own, Ali evocatively portrays the curiosity of a lost young man at the start of his drag journey. His character faces several complex dilemmas as he struggles to honour his desires, his mother’s memory, his faith in a Coptic Egyptian Church, and his disapproving father. The actor successfully balances his emotions within these delicate scenarios, skillfully extracting a mix of angry, sad, and happy emotions from his expressions and giving a hauntingly powerful performance.

Creative expression comes from external sources in the film too, thanks to the hair and makeup artist AJ Lauren. The drag makeup, particularly Nabil’s transformation, is phenomenal. The character’s first attempt at his drag look is adorable, with classically excessive blue eye shadow and lipstick that is not within the lines. His second look is simple and well-done, but a basic drag queen style that purposely doesn’t seem to quite fit. The final look is exceptionally different, with carefully curated smoky eyes and dark lipstick that screams Nabil’s style of drag. Aesthetically pleasing yet narratively serving, the makeup makes a striking difference.

Queen Tut Flash

Correspondingly, the cinematography is unbelievably pleasing. The film utilizes the shiny and shimmering fabrics of drag with eye-catching close-ups. The dressmaking scenes with Nabil and Malibu do not disappoint and the contrast in the colour palette enhances the visual texture and narrative. Cleverly, the moments that celebrate the Queer community are full of colours that are vibrant with life. In contrast, the scenes outside or unaccepting of the world are purposefully drab. These shots are still visually interesting but intentionally monotone with plain whites, greys, and browns to provide a stark contrast through colour.

All in all, Queen Tut‘s narrative soulfully honours the Queer hardships between belief and identity, all through the unique lens of a Middle Eastern perspective. Nabil and Malibu’s journeys are filled with joy and pain, but most importantly, the warmth of a loving found family. The story concludes in reality too, asserting that not everything will work out, but loved ones will be there in the best way they can. Despite its prevalence in a gay bar, its narrative transcends its identity through these dynamic characters who find love and discovery through each other. Coupled with humour and emotionally driven moments, Queen Tut serves the Queer community a unique perspective while working its heartwarming, universal narrative.

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Don’t sashay away from this exceptional film.

Queen Tut opens in select theatres in Canada on February 23, 2024.

Photo Credits: Lauren Newman



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