He’s a budding drag queen. She’s a functioning schizophrenic. They’re roommates and they’re…. outrageous! Margaret Gibson wrote a collection of short stories about her struggles with mental illness and her friendship with female impersonator Craig Russell. Russell would co-star in a film adaptation of her work. Outrageous! has compassion for its characters and a gritty, documentary style of film making. The conflicts are overcome a little too easily but the characters are interesting and the film merits a second look.
Here’s my spoiler filled recap.
Triggers include racism, a miscarriage and a simplistic depiction of mental illness.
Act One: Independence
Scene One: An Apartment in Toronto
LIZA (a young woman living with schizophrenia): I checked out of the mental institution. I’m taking my medication. Can I move in with you?
ROBIN (a hairdresser): Of course, if that’s what you want.
LIZA: I want to be independent. And a writer.
ROBIN: Well I want to be a drag queen. Let’s see how our plot lines balance out.
Scene Two: The Apartment at Night
(Liza and her date are having sex. Robin barges in dressed as Tallulah Bankhead)
ROBIN (as TALLULAH): Pull out darling. I need Liza’s help.
LIZA’S DATE: The hell? Why do you live with that? (Leaves.)
ROBIN: I won’t apologize. I’ve been asked to emcee at a drag club but I’m scared.
LIZA: Don’t be. The world needs laughter. It’s the only thing that keeps us sane.
Scene Three: Toronto Drag Club
ROBIN (as BETTE DAVIS): “Anita Bryant sent me down here to beat some sense into you frozen fruits!”
LIZA: It’s like multiple personalities only funny! You’re a hit!
CLOSETED SALON OWNER: And you’re fired. My clients don’t want a drag queen styling their hair.
ROBIN: They’d prefer a self-loathing closet case?
LIZA: Robin, I’m pregnant. My therapist is angry but I’m keeping it.
ROBIN: I just got a gig in New York but I should stay with you.
LIZA: Go. I’ll stay with my underwritten friends.
Act Two: Motherhood
Scene Four: Small New York Club
HOT CAB DRIVER: I’m a former agent. That club’s a dive.
ROBIN (as MAE WEST): Oh! So be my agent and get me a better gig. Oh!
HOT CAB DRIVER: It’s a deal.
ROBIN: Wanna be my love interest while you’re at it?
HOT CAB DRIVER: Nope. You won’t meet anyone till the sequel.
Scene Five: Underwritten Friend’s House
FRIEND: I like your stories. If I can get them published they might even make it a movie.
LIZA: I’d forgotten the writing subplot! I’m having violent hallucinations.
FRIEND: I’m not a nurse. I can’t be responsible for your poorly written mental illness.
LIZA: The baby’s coming!
Act Three: Dreams
Scene Six: Big New York Club
ROBIN (as CAROL CHANNING): Any drag queen can do Carol. But I can quick change between 6 divas in one song!
ROBIN (as PEARL BAILEY): Including black women. It’s offensive, honey, but at least I don’t wear black face makeup.
ROBIN (as JUDY GARLAND): Like Judy had to do in the 1930’s.
(You can watch a clip of Robin’s club act here.)
Scene Seven: Dressing Room
LIZA: You got your dream, but I lost the baby. I’m dead inside.
ROBIN: “There’s nothing the matter with you. You’re alive, and sick and living in New York — like 8 million other people.”
LIZA: Should we stay together? Like a sadder Will and Grace?
ROBIN: If you can’t be independent, be co-dependent.
Too Outrageous! (1987)
The central friendship is under explored. We don’t know how they met or why they want to live together. Liza’s other friends accuse Robin of taking advantage of her but this is quickly dismissed. It’s up to the actors to provide the chemistry and fierce sense of loyalty.
In 1987 the team reunited for a sequel, Too Outrageous! Russell got a love interest, more drag numbers and less plot. The film flopped and has not been preserved. Russell passed away in 1990. I found several interesting articles about his career:
- David De Alba’s blog post on Russell, featuring interviews with his peers.
- The L.A. Times obituary of Craig Russell
- Maclean’s review of Too Outrageous!
- The New York Times review of Too Outrageous!
- A Queer Music Heritage blog post on Russell with rare photos.
- Roger Ebert’s review of Outrageous!