The history of gay bars is fascinating. They were created because of homophobic attitudes that prevented LGBTQ people openly displaying their sexual preferences. Gay bars, at least in North America, started out as hidden places which were constantly being raided by the police, and were in many cases, controlled and protected by organized crime. It was a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, that was at the center of the riot which touched off the gay rights movement in the United States. While their importance has declined in recent years due to softening attitudes towards LGBTQ identities and the fact that most people have access to dating apps like Grindr, Vancouver at the time of this writing has three, which are important gathering places for a good many LGBTQ people. Given that gay bars are still important from a cultural standpoint, it makes sense that someone should make a movie about one and about the people involved in its operation.
Stage Mother is a music-infused, comedy-drama that tells the touching story of Maybelline Metcalf, a conservative, Texan choir director who, after her estranged son dies while performing in a drag show, discovers that he has left her his gay bar. She surprises her closed-minded husband and friends by moving to San Francisco to save the club from bankruptcy. In this new, raucous environment she becomes
a mother figure to the club’s flamboyant performers, hence the title of the movie. The story focuses on her getting to know her son’s friends, connecting with his boyfriend, and ultimately saving the club from financial ruin.
Maybelline Metcalf is played by Jacki Weaver, an Australian actress known for her roles in Silver Linings Playbook (2012), Animal Kingdom (2010) and Stoker (2013). She is excellent as Metcalf and conveys well the confusion of a mother who finally learns of her son’s life in San Francisco and decides to gladly accept the unconventional life he has chosen away from her and her unsympathetic husband.
The excellent supporting cast includes Lucy Liu and Adrian Grenier. Liu was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her starring role as Ling Woo in the television series Ally McBeal (1998-2002). She is also recognized for her role as Joan Watson in the crime-drama series Elementary (2012-2019).
Adrian Grenier gained his most notable success playing Vincent Chase in the HBO series Entourage (2004-2011) which was nominated for numerous Emmy awards. He also starred in the American-Australian drama-thriller miniseries Clickbait on Netflix which was released in 2021. Both characters give a wonderful insight into the friendships that Metcalf ’s son developed while living away from home.
Unfortunately, the pacing of this movie is rather turgid, and the characters could have been portrayed in a much more complex and vibrant way. It also has to be said that the drag shows, which are a major part of the film’s story, are uninspired, boring and one dimensional, primarily because the film was obviously produced with a low budget. It is disappointing that such an important opportunity to explore the complexities of both drag and LGBTQ culture was not developed to its full potential.