Intergenerational connection is an often-forgotten but vital tool for building community. In the LGBTQ community, the HIV/AIDS epidemic that attacked the gay scene of the 1980s and 90s has made such connection that much more difficult today ー simply, and devastatingly, there are not as many gay people who survived that era. Therefore, a film which orbits on the friendship between two drag queens, one in her 70s and the other in her 20s, is very much welcome. Beyond this relationship, the following film plays daintily with timelessness and identity to make us question the boundaries of gender, of queer aesthetics, and of queerness in an of itself.
Tucked (2018, Jamie Patterson) opens with Jackie, an elderly drag queen, on stage in a room of hazy smoke. Soon, we go backstage to meet Faith, a young queen who’s new to the venue and still finding her footing. Soon, we find out that Faith is homeless and living in her car after being kicked out by her family, and that Jackie is struggling with her health and has months (if not weeks) to live. Faith moves in and onto Jackie’s sofa, and it seems that they both need each other more than they could know.
Britney Line Time: “See the sunlight, we ain’t stopping / Keep on dancing ’til the world ends”
In the first shot of the film, we see Jackie performing the drag classic I Will Survive. Though the adoring crowd seems none the wiser, it doesn’t take a drag fan to spot that some of her lip sync is a little out of time. Perhaps Derren Nesbit didn’t notice, being a straight man playing a straight male drag queen. Indeed, Jackie’s (Jack and he/him out of drag) heterosexuality brings us probably the most awkward moments of the film, such as the scene when Faith takes him to a strip club.
We are left to ponder how queerness fits into his narrative: sometimes, Jackie is on stage in a corset, age-appropriate wig and age-inappropriate heels; other times, Jack is getting a lap dance from a lesbian stripper and crying about his late wife. Overall, while nowhere near bad, Nesbit’s performance and character was not the standout.
With my infamous aversion to non-queer actors playing queer characters (see also: Disclosure), it’s hard for me to admit how wonderful Jordan Stephens is as Faith. Known for being one half of hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks, he translates beautifully onto the big screen. A quick google search reassures you that he’s one of the woke straights and that he checked in with queer friends both before accepting the role and during his acting process. He’s also in a relationship with friend of the queens, Little Mix sensation and (spoilers) recent Bake Off champion Jade Thirwall. Basically, he knows what’s up.
Maybe I accept a cis-het man playing a gender fluid drag queen because he’s so young and beautiful ー the gay community, and the film industry more widely, does, after all, fetishise youth. Or perhaps it’s because he doesn’t play into the queerness of play up stereotypes, giving the portrayal an authentic confidence.
Whatever the excuse, Stephens’ standout performance is undeniable. As Faith, an ungendered being who plays with feminine presentation in and out of drag, honesty and vulnerability bubble underneath Stephens’ quiet strength. Faith is defensive, but playful behind the bravado, and not afraid to open up to those she’s close to (namely, Jackie). This light and shade combine to create a believable character. Faith’s journey is reflected too in her makeup, which becomes more refined as time progresses.
Biggest Gay Mood: getting in drag and doing coke
Faith gives us as an audience a lot of insight into how someone outside of binary gender presentation is forced to approach every aspect of life differently. In one scene, she goes to visit a drug dealer, and gets confronted about what genitals she has. Gender non-conforming individuals always have to be “on”, ready to defend themselves, their identity and even their safety at a moment’s notice. Ultimately, it was a shame that her narrative came secondary to that of Jack/Jackie.
Together, Jackie and Faith act as each others’ guardian angels. The narrative follows character rather than plot: towards the end of what would be the conventional story, the narrative skips a lot of detail ー because an emotional climax has already been reached. Cinematography adds to this, destabilised close-ups focusing on emotion rather than speech and camera shots that linger long past other characters have started speaking.
Tucked exists within a temporal space which is difficult to pin down. In the opening shot at the drag show, a spotlight in a smoky room puts the focus on the performer, not letting you see the crowd members who exist outside that ring of light. This beginning sets the mood for the mystery and haziness which characterises the film’s aesthetics.
Jackie reappears in these seemingly dreamlike stage sequences throughout the film, performing stand-up comedy. Her jokes act as punctuation for the story: to bring in plot points, to check in with her mental state, to foreshadow story direction, and generally to frame the narrative. Jackie’s humour comes from a collection of drag queen classics ー they are crass and unoriginal, but told with charm and wit. Her drag style, too, doesn’t explicitly place the film in the modern-day: she wears a giant structured beehive and typically glitzy dresses, gloves and jewellery. Though Faith is clearly more in the new-school, she embraces aspects of traditional British drag performance too in her live singing of heartfelt ballads.
There is a distinct lack of temporal clues in this film. There are a few references to technology, but even the brief Facebook storyline is performed using a laptop that would have been old a decade ago. Setting is limited to a few interiors and sweeping urban shots of small town nighttime Britain which could be set at any point in the last few decades.
Thematically, the film walks along a combination of well-trodden paths: grief, acceptance, unexpected friendships, mortality, finding your place, and the persistence of the human spirit. This only adds to its sense of timelessness, giving it a weight and a grandeur.
Top Tip: The mood here is great for a late night film ー and at an hour and twenty, it shouldn’t keep you up too long
Moreover, rather than just being timeless, Tucked in timelessly British; the film envelops itself and the viewer in the gritty glamour of a small English town. Haze from cloudy weather and cigarette smoke permeates every scene, muting the film’s colouring into a hue of specifically non-romantic maroon. As British media does so well, the film’s themes and conversations pivot quickly between desperately sad and lightly comedic.
We meet few characters in this film, and everything about it seems intimate. Though Tucked exists stylistically within a self-contained universe and an anonymous small town drag bar, it is a film which reaches far beyond.
Tucked is available on Netflix worldwide.