|To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Beeban Kidron|
|Produced by||Walter F. Parkes|
|Written by||Douglas Beane|
|Music by||Rachel Portman|
|Edited by||Andrew Mondshein|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$47.8 million|
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar is a 1995 American comedy film directed by Beeban Kidron and starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo as three New York City drag queens who embark on a road trip. Its title refers to an iconic autographed photo of actress Julie Newmar that they carry with them on their journey. Newmar additionally appears in the film as herself.
After tying for the win in New York City's "Drag Queen of the Year" contest, Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) and Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) win a trip to Hollywood to take part in the even bigger "Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant". Before they depart, Vida persuades Noxeema to take along the inexperienced "drag princess" Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) as their protégé (they initially refer to him simply as a "boy in a dress" rather than as a fully-fledged drag queen). To do this, they trade in their airplane tickets for cash and buy a stylish but old Cadillac convertible with money given to them by John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt (Robin Williams). They set off for Los Angeles in it, carrying with them an iconic autographed photo of Julie Newmar (signed, "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar") that Vida took from a restaurant wall.
While on the road they are pulled over by Sheriff Dollard (Chris Penn), who hurls racial slurs, then forces Vida out of the car and tries to rape her. Dollard discovers Vida is not a woman and, in the commotion, he falls backwards and is knocked unconscious. They think he is dead, hurry off, and leave him behind. As they recover from the incident at a rest stop, their car breaks down. Bobby Ray (Jason London), a young man from the nearby small town of Snydersville, happens to pass by and gives them a ride, where they take refuge in a bed and breakfast inn owned by Carol Ann (Stockard Channing) and her abusive car repairman husband, Virgil (Arliss Howard).
They become stranded in the town for the weekend as they wait for the replacement part for their car to arrive. Chi-Chi is harassed by a group of roughnecks, but is saved by Bobby Ray. While volunteering to help with the town's Strawberry Social, they decide its small band of women need a day with them, which consists of the following steps: get your hair done, pick out a new outfit, and then just sit in a cafe and talk. While searching for the new outfits, they are ecstatic to find vintage fashions from the 1960s in the town's clothing store and give the female residents (and themselves) a make-over.
Following their makeover, they are abused by the same roughnecks that attempted to attack Chi-Chi. Fed up, Noxeema handles the situation in a typically New York City manner and teaches their ringleader a lesson in manners. Vida, Noxeema, and Chi-Chi do what they can to be positive, and they set out to improve the lives of the townspeople, including offering assistance in organizing the Strawberry Social.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Dollard is ridiculed by his colleagues, who believe he was beat up by a girl. He goes off in search of the drag queens.
Vida, in the meantime, becomes acutely aware of Carol Ann's abuse at the hands of Virgil and, shortly thereafter, they overhear him giving her another beating. Vida decides to intervene and beats him up before throwing him out of the house.
Carol Ann is able to repair their car, but they remain for the Strawberry Social. Carol Ann reveals to Vida that she knew she was a drag queen all along due to her Adam's apple.
Not too far away, Virgil runs into Sheriff Dollard at a bar and they realize that the newcomers are the same people Dollard has been searching for. They head back to Snydersville, and Dollard demands that the townspeople turn them over. The other townspeople, who now realize that their new friends are not women, begin to protect them. One by one they step up and confront Dollard, each one claiming to be a drag queen (in similar fashion to Spartacus). He is humiliated and flees. The Strawberry Social commences with everyone dressed in vibrant red outfits for it. The townfolk then say goodbye to their new friends as Noxeema, Vida and Chi-Chi prepare to leave. In honor of their friendship, Vida gives Carol Ann the autographed photo of Julie Newmar that has accompanied them on their trip.
They eventually make it to Los Angeles where Chi-Chi, after having received many tips from Vida and Noxeema during their ordeal, wins the title of Drag Queen of the Year. The crown is presented by Julie Newmar herself.
- Wesley Snipes as Noxeema Jackson
- Patrick Swayze as Vida Boheme
- John Leguizamo as Chi-Chi Rodriguez
- Stockard Channing as Carol Ann
- Blythe Danner as Beatrice
- Arliss Howard as Virgil
- Jason London as Bobby Ray
- Chris Penn as Sheriff Dollard
- Melinda Dillon as Merna
- Beth Grant as Loretta
- Alice Drummond as Clara
- Michael Vartan as Tommy
- Jennifer Milmore as Bobbie Lee
- Julie Newmar as Herself
- Naomi Campbell as Girl at China Bowl restaurant
- Joseph Arias as Joey Arias
- Lady Catiria as Herself
- Alexander Heimberg as Miss Understood
- Candis Cayne as Herself (credited as Brendan McDanniel)
- Clinton Leupp as Miss Coco Peru
- Steven Polito as Hedda Lettuce
- Jon Ingle as The Lady Bunny
- Quentin Crisp as NY Pageant Judge
- José Sarria as NY Pageant Judge
- RuPaul as Rachel Tensions
- Robin Williams as John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
When it came to casting the leading men, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo both immediately said yes. The role of Vida became the hottest part in town with various actors auditioning in drag - a list that included Robert Downey Jr., Billy Baldwin, Gary Oldman, Matthew Broderick, James Spader, John Cusack, Mel Gibson, Robert Sean Leonard, Willem Defoe, John Turturro, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, and Robin Williams (who had a brief cameo in the finished film). Patrick Swayze was one of the last actors to audition for Vida, and he wanted it badly. Director Beeban Kidron has said that it was ultimately Swayze's walk that sealed the deal, saying “Swayze had his own makeup people transform him into a woman, and he insisted that he and Beeban take a walk around the city to prove he could pass as a woman,” Kohn wrote in The Advocate. “With his beauty and dancer’s grace, he did just that. He had the job.”
In interviews and recollections with actors and crew after the film, the production of To Wong Foo has often been described as "a tough shoot." One reason being the discomfort the male leads experienced with their extensive makeup and costumes. Remote location and a four-and-a-half month long shoot had also played a role in the friction that occurred between the cast and crew.
The opening and closing scenes were filmed in New York City featuring dozens of its local drag performers and underground stars in small roles or as featured extras. Included in the mix were RuPaul, Joey Arias, Lady Bunny, Miss Understood, Candis Cayne, Flotilla DeBarge, Miss Coco Peru, and Quentin Crisp. The three stars had previously spent some time in the local drag scene while researching their roles. The ending scene, the anticipated Miss Drag Queen USA contest, was filmed at The John S. Phipps Estate in Old Westbury, New York, now colloquially known as Old Westbury Gardens. Much of the rest of the film was shot on location in Montclair, New Jersey; Loma, Nebraska; Lincoln; and Omaha. Though greatly faded, a "Welcome to Snydersville" outdoor mural remains in Loma.
The film is similar to the earlier Australian comedy-drama, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert which stars Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp, and Guy Pearce in the roles of the three drag queens who travel cross-country in a vehicle that breaks down, stranding them in a small backwater town where they manage to win the locals over. Priscilla debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1994.
With a lifetime box-office gross revenue of US$47.8 million worldwide, the film was number one at the box office in the United States for its first two weeks in the theater.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 41% based on 37 reviews. On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 60% based on reviews from 24 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B+" on scale of A to F.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: What is amazing is how the movie manages to be funny and amusing while tippy-toeing around (a) sex, (b) controversy and (c) any originality in the plot.Emanuel Levy of Variety magazine wrote: "A politically correct comedy about drag queens? This is the American response to the superior Aussie flick Adventures of Priscilla. Macho Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo can't lift it above the routine."
The film's soundtrack includes:
- "I Am the Body Beautiful" – Salt-N-Pepa
- "Free Yourself" – Chaka Khan
- "Turn It Out" – Labelle
- "Who Taught You How" – Crystal Waters
- "She's a Lady" – Tom Jones
- "Brick House" – The Commodores
- "Nobody's Body" – Monifah
- "Do What You Wanna Do" – Charisse Arrington
- "(Hey Now) Girls Just Want to Have Fun" – Cyndi Lauper
- "Over the Rainbow" – Patti LaBelle
- "To Wong Foo Suite (When I Get to Hollywood/A Day With the Girls/Moms Mabley/Stand Up)" – Rachel Portman
Music and songs not included in the soundtrack:
- "Gotta Move" – Barbra Streisand
- "Theme From Wonder Woman" – New World Symphony
- "Je Cherche un Homme" [I Want a Man] – Eartha Kitt
- "Behind Closed Doors" – Charlie Rich
- "Stand by Your Man" – David Allan Coe
- "This Is a Man's World" – Sara Hickman
- "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" – Johnny Mathis
- "(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" – B.J. Thomas
- "1812 Overture" – Tchaikovsky
- "Zampa Overture" – Ferdinand Herold
- "China Girl" – Robert J. Walsh
- "That Lady You're with Ain't No Lady" – Larry Applewhite/Gene Wisniewski
In 2017, it was announced that Douglas Carter Beane and his husband Lewis Flynn were working on a musical adaptation for Broadway. In an interview, Beane stated that he had originally written To Wong Foo for the stage, and had retained stage rights when the screenplay was produced.
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- "The Crazy, Fabulous Story Behind 'To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar'". www.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
- Read, Philip (May 13, 2008). "Montclair on screens big and small". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-04-28.
- Benes, Ross (March 24, 2014). "When John Leguizamo Fixed Up My Hometown". Esquire. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
- "Chi Chi to Universal Pictures: Thanks for Nothing, I'm Suing". Los Angeles Times. 1995-09-16. Retrieved 2011-06-30.
- "Rodriguez Settles Suit". The Spokesman-Review. September 29, 1995. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
- "The Amazing Story Behind To Wong Foo". The Advocate, August 13, 2015.
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- "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar". Metacritic.
- "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
- Roger Ebert (January 1, 2000). "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Levy, Emanuel (5 September 1995). "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar". Variety.
- Crust, Kevin (September 14, 2015). "No. 1 Films from 10, 20 and 30 Years Ago". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- Michael Kearns (September 25, 1995). "'Julie Newmar': Disguised Gay-Bashing or Artful Story? : Thanks for Nothing, This Writer Says". Los Angeles Times.
- "Winners and Nominees: To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar". The Golden Globes. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- "To Wong Foo, thanks for everything, Julie Newmar [DVD] / Universal Pictures presents an Amblin Entertainment production ; a Beeban Kidron film". Chesterfield County Public Library. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar Blu-ray. Blu-ray.com.
- "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar Soundtrack". Film Music Site. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- Stitzel, Kelly (September 19, 2009). "Soundtrack Saturday: "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar"". Popdose. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- Beeban Kidron (director) (8 September 1995). To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (Motion picture). United States: Amblin Entertainment.
- "Douglas Carter Beane & Lewis Flinn to Workshop To Wong Foo Musical Adaptation". Broadway.com. 2017-10-20. Retrieved 2018-02-22.
- "'To Wong Foo' may be Broadway's next drag spectacular". New York Post. 2018-02-06. Retrieved 2018-02-22.
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