Sophie Dupuis Only will be released in Toronto theaters this weekend. The Quebec film is set in Montreal’s drag scene and won top honors at TIFF, taking home Best Canadian Film.
It follows young drag star Simon (played by a captivating and vulnerable Théodore Pellerin) as he falls in love with a new queen and attempts to extract the love of his famously selfless mother.
Writer-director Dupuis came up with the idea for the film a few years ago while watching Ru Paul’s drag career.
“I admired this art form a lot, but I got to hear them talk about their lives, their family, where they come from. I thought there was something to say about it,” he said in an interview with CBC. News.
And she was interested in toxic relationships: how they developed, why people stay and what they get out of them, and she thought Pellerin, with whom she worked twice before, would be perfect in the lead role.
The film is released at a time when drag performances are sparking angry protests across Canada and the United States (as of last year, more than 160 drag events have been targeted, according to GLAAD), and hate crimes against LGBTQ people are increasing dramatically.
The result is a deep, introspective look at Montreal drag culture that can help create empathy and understanding. The film featured a great LGBQ cast and crew.and Dupuis says that it was always intended to have “queer characters, but for whom queerness is never a problem.”
After writing the film and casting Pellerin in the lead role, he interviewed hundreds of people.
“It was very emotional because people said [me] how important that kind of movie would be to the culture and even to them, that maybe it was the kind of movie they needed when they were young,” Dupuis said.
“And for the people behind the camera, I thought it was a good idea to have queer people who knew about drag culture and had references.”
Local queens on a local budget
They created six new drag queens for the show, cast a mix of real-life actors and queens, and brought in a choreographer to help train the actors in dancing and bring femininity to their performances.
Montreal-based drag queen Gisèle Lullaby saw the film in an early release and said it is a good representation of Montreal’s drag scene in the early 2000s, before Ru Paul’s drag career permeated the culture.
The clothing, makeup and styling are very tied to the drag scene of the early 2000s in Montreal, she said. Now, it has become a big-budget affair with staged wigs, elaborate costumes and more audience expectations.
“I used to do the old kind of drag that was more subtle, quieter, with more interpretation and acting, so I think that’s a good point of view,” said Lullaby, who competed and won the third season of Canada’s Endurance Race.
“There are local queens on the show, so it’s a local queen budget. It’s really nice to see reality.”
The role of the film’s central drag queen was written for Pellerin, but when he was cast, he didn’t know much about drag.
She was faced with the task of becoming a convincing drag queen for an audience initiated into the world of drag television through shows such as Ru Paul’s drag career.
Months before filming began, Pellerin began working with movement coaches to learn how to walk in heels, dance convincingly, and develop her own femininity and “develop a sensuality.”
“The most important thing was valuing myself through femininity,” Pellerin said. “Because the character, you know, is completely liberated in that aspect and values herself through that quirkiness and that femininity. I had to develop that and also learn to love it.”
The shoot was liberating and exhilarating, but as the film’s release approached and he began to see himself in the trailer and promotional images, he felt uncomfortable.
He said he felt obligated to make sure people knew he was playing a character, that it wasn’t really him, and he wasn’t proud of that feeling.
“I never consider making sure people know it’s a character,” he said. But “there is still an element of what has been instilled in me and in the collective imagination that something is wrong.”
Pellerin said the feeling was surprising. He felt liberated when filming the film, he had friends who were drag queens, he consumes drag content and it is part of his life.
“It’s probably my own internalized homophobia that I still have to deconstruct,” he said.
All audiences can identify, says the queen
Lullaby said the film is an important part of sharing the lives of the LGBTQ community, and especially its trans and non-binary members.
“I think it’s important to see a movie like that to understand what happens inside [and] not just judge people. It’s sad. I think it’s really sad. I saw terrible things being shouted at trans people during the march,” Lullaby said.
“I’m not saying that you have to learn to get used to it, but you have to learn that they are human beings and that they exist.”
She said she found the film moving, not only for its depiction of drag, but for how it unraveled the complexity of toxic relationships, something she said all audiences can relate to.
“It’s a very good point of view on drag,” he said. “That movie moved me a lot.”
Solo debuts at Toronto’s Varsity Theater on Friday. Audiences will be able to see it in theaters across Canada on October 6.