Freak Show follows a queer and fabulous teen in a bildungsroman that fails to hit the nail on the head despite how much it bashes you over the head with its hammer of inclusiveness.

Based – clearly – on a young adult novel, Freak Show follows Billy Bloom, a queer teenager with a dedication to all things ‘fabulous’. Irritatingly, Bloom (Alex Lawther) narrates the film with an entitled air of superiority and fuchsia-tinted spectacles. Lawther is certainly coming into his own as an actor in the wake of his performances in Black Mirror and The Imitation Game, but he’s never really given the space to shine behind all that make-up.

Bloom is bullied, beaten up and broken down by his fellow school mates in the conservative, southern-states school where he is transplanted upon the fleeing of his mother. Anyone who’s every been to a fancy dress party knows that costumes are mind-bogglingly expensive and usually fall apart within the first two hours of wearing them. Its convenient then that Billy’s dad is uber-rich and lives in a palace with a fancy dress box bigger than most people’s houses. It includes full-blown mermaid outfits complete with mechanical bubble-blowers, pirate-themed fashions, and more wigs than the Kardashians.

We’re supposed to accept that Billy’s love for glamour is all due to his love for his mother, or ‘Muv’ as he calls her. Their relationship is at worst questionable and at best bizarre, Billy’s unwavering dedication to his alcoholic idol (Bette Midler) is nauseating. It never occurs to Billy that his mother is a drunk who doesn’t particularly care for him until he overhears her demanding child care costs from his father before hitting the road again. Quite why she decided to bring him up as a miniature Elton John is never really covered, but we can only assume it’s to irritate Billy’s uptight, straight down the line, father.

This eventually lands him in hospital following a bridal-themed fight that makes a music video out of what should be a deeply upsetting hate crime. Following this, Billy gathers some friends from the ‘shadow people’ of the school hallway, led by the nameless AnnaSophia Robb. Confusingly, Robb is infinitely more agreeable than the ‘popular kids’ led by Lynette (Abigail Breslin) who plays a petulant, Trump-supporting it-girl with bad hair and worse friends. There’s a way to do high-school mean girls, see Mean Girls, but this contrived attempt ain’t it.

Lynette and Billy eventually, far too late in the film, decide to go head to head for Homecoming Queen, the high school equivalent of the Presidential election, apparently. This annoys new friend, popular kid Trip (Ian Nelson) whose inexplicable friendship with Billy is superficially scarred by the potential consequences of Billy’s decision to not fit in with the cool kids. Those who loved Glee, but by the end felt beaten over the head by its all inclusive message despite how much they agreed with it, will probably give this a miss. For a younger audience, Freak Show might resonate when it goes on-demand in June.

The problem with Freak Show is that it falls into all the stereotypical boxes it tries to avoid without a hint of irony. Billy is a privileged, in fact spoiled, young man with less to worry about than many other young, gay men living in conservative communities. It rams its inclusivity down your throat with all the subtlety of a gift wrapped banana, but fails to give any depth to the meaning of that inclusivity, nor any real impetus for peeling back the layers.


Freak Show is released in UK cinemas and on demand on June 22.