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Review: Alex Lawther shines in flamboyant bullying drama ‘Freak Show’

Laverne Cox, from left, Abigail Breslin, Alex Lawther and AnnaSophia Robb in the movie "Freak Show."
(IFC Films)

Actress and producer Trudie Styler makes her feature directorial debut with the flamboyantly genderqueer “Freak Show,” an adaptation of the novel by the legendary club kid, writer and host James St. James. Scripted by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio, the story puts a young adult spin on the outré aesthetic and avant-garde, limitless approach to self-expression that St. James and his crew championed in the early ‘90s.

Our hero, Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), a diva through and through, has been reared in the ways of glamour by his wild mother Muv, (Bette Midler). It’s culture shock when he goes to live with his father and is planted squarely in the most repressive of all environments: a clique-ish, elite Southern private school. But iconoclasts always need forces to fight against, and for Billy, the bullying only allows for him to bloom brighter.

The plot is fairly standard high school stuff, with football jocks, mean girls and a hotly contested homecoming queen race, which Billy enters as a means of expressing himself and to give some healthy competition to the wretched queen bee Lynette (Abigail Breslin).

“Freak Show” is carried by a fully committed performance from Lawther, who quivers and swans and roars like the best of the Hollywood grand dames. While the rest of the characters are fairly rote and one-dimensionsal, Lawther goes for broke, and you can’t take your eyes off him. Billy wouldn’t have it any other way.

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‘Freak Show’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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