Smile Politely

Little Prince(ss) is Packin’

In my youth, Marlo Thomas produced a lovely television special, Free to Be You and Me, a complex collection of skits, songs, and cartoons empowering the natural tendencies of some children to break rigid gender codes and follow their hearts. It was a huge success when televised, and the music still circulates in some day care centers and elementary classrooms.

One song that really spoke to me was about a little lad named William who longed for his mother and father to give him a doll. In the Free to Be You and Me universe, the father and mother relent in their refusal to grant this wish when grandmamma brings him a doll explaining it will teach him to be a better parent. The music swells and we all feel great about William’s choice. I knew it was bullshit! I had dolls and two older brothers … in Central Illinois. My mother, in a rather manic, menopausal phase, bought me one to “hush my whining,” and my siblings and father were too terrified to contradict her directly. Instead, they lit the doll on fire. Then they cross-dressed Ken to show me how silly that looked. (Of course it did. The pumps and gown didn’t fit, and he wasn’t wearing make-up or a weave.) There would be no dolls for little Tommy; well, not until they invented the GI Joe, and then both my siblings and my father thought it wise to let me play with a muscle-bound soldier in full fatigues and combat boots. Naturally, that would reinforce my burgeoning heterosexuality … or my desire to attend uniform night at any gay bar anywhere.

The protagonist in the poignant 2008 comedic film, Ready? Ok! is sort of my cinematic doppelganger. Joshua Dowd, played by Lurie Poston, is an adorable strawberry-blond kid who likes his dresses and his sparkly things, and would play with a doll or two if he were given the chance. But his real love is cheerleading. Yep, the little tyke with an absent father and few male role models wants to leap and chant and cartwheel in a spiffy matching outfit with pom-poms … and his mother, portrayed by True Blood and The Good Wife’s Carrie Preston, is less than thrilled. Her own father, little Joshua’s only male role model, has just died, and with her son’s baby daddy absent and her own Catholicism and the glaring eyes of a parochial school staff monitoring her child, she has a lot of anxiety over what she’s done to create this “peculiar” little boy. Her anxiety is heightened by well-meaning parents at the playground telling her about how their gay cousin, brother, or sister was the same way at that age. In the wrong hands, this film could be a dreary and somber proceeding.

Thankfully, several attributes save the film. Among these are the acting skills of Poston and Preston, some lovely cameo work by Lost’s evil-doer Michael Emerson as a gay-Yoda of a next door neighbor, and the gentle writing and direction by James Vasquez, all of which make this film both charming and comically moving. Lurie’s Josh is a plucky survivor and a charmer, and his story is never the stuff that an “It Gets Better” PSA is made of. The kid’s alright and he’ll remain so with the right support. Preston’s mother is anxious, but never the stuff of an Exodus International programming video. She’s just a mother who wants her child to fit in because she’s worried for his safety in this world we live in, and she maintains a sympathetic and relatable visage throughout. This is a feel-good movie, and you’ll end up feeling great at the resolution.

Granted, this film would not be my choice for a queer cinema festival. Personally, I tend towards darker fare. (Dear Santa of The Art Theater Co-Op, James Franco and Travis Matthew’s meta-fictional meditation on William Friedkin’s lost footage from 1980’s grim Cruising, entitled Interior. Leather Bar. STAT PLEASE!) That said, it’s nice to watch a film about gender and sexual identity where no one is maimed, killed, or turned into a teary mess. Joshua’s sexual identity is yet to form during this film. Instead, the film is about those courageous enough to say no to their gender menu and sample the remainder of the buffet. As I always say, “It’s not what’s in the diaper, but what’s in the heart that shapes us.” This film has a lot of heart and some sweet performances. Check out the trailer, then see it at the Reel It UP Film Festival tonight. Enjoy!


Ready? OK! is part of the 4th Annual LGBT Film Festival to be held at the Art Theater every Tuesday in June. It plays tonight, Tuesday, June 11, at 9:30 p.m. For more information about the festival, go here.

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