Sunday 8 October 2017

Movie Review: Victor/Victoria (1982)

A gender-bending comedy romance with some music, Victor/Victoria finds laughs by poking sharp fun at traditional masculine and feminine roles.

Paris, 1934. Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is an unemployed and starving classically trained soprano singer in a city looking for edgier and more decadent entertainment. An accidental meeting with recently-fired and openly gay nightclub host Carroll "Toddy" Todd (Robert Preston) results in a brainstorm: Victoria will pretend to be the exotic Polish Count Victor Grazinski, an expert female impersonator and cross-dresser performing as the sultry Victoria. The ruse works and soon Victoria is the toast of the town.

American nightclub owner and businessman King Marchand (James Garner) is visiting Paris with his girlfriend Norma (Lesley Ann Warren). King has gangland contacts and so travels with bodyguard "Squash" Bernstein (Alex Karras). King catches the glitzy show featuring Victoria and is hopelessly infatuated, and just as stunned when she is revealed to be Count Victor. King refuses to fully believe that Victoria is a man, and sets out to find out the truth, unleashing a knock-on series of sexually confused events.

Written and directed by Blake Edwards and featuring one of his wife Julie Andrews' finest roles, Victor/Victoria celebrates love across gender divides. With a lovingly recreated Gay Paree between the two wars providing the perfect backdrop, the film dives headfirst into murky waters where inner souls attract and traditional gender roles are hopelessly muddled.

The premise of a woman pretending to be a man who impersonates women in order to launch a successful cabaret act tests the limits of what a movie can explain. Edwards just about gets away with it, although Andrews passing herself off as a man rarely carries conviction. But beyond the labels, this is a story of connections and friendships, and Edwards' message is one of love. The heterosexual Victoria and homosexual Toddy form a strong bond based on a business partnership, the very hetero King jettisons the over-sexed Norma and is hopelessly attracted to Victor whether or not she is Victoria. Before all emotions are sorted, even the bodyguard Squash will get in on the act.

Surrounding the central theme is some cheap Clouseauesque comedy, and Edwards is unable to exercise the necessary restraint to trim the fat, especially in the second half as the film extends to a flabby 132 minutes. The few musical routines are serviceable but also repetitive and far from memorable.

Julie Andrews helps the movie through the rough patches and is laser focussed on keeping Victoria a rational character through the comic sexual mayhem. Robert Preston gets the showiest role, and revels in the freedom of portraying a man who could care less about what others think. Lesley Ann Warren is also humorously flamboyant, but disappears from the film for a long stretch.

Victor/Victoria is a fun frolic through the weird world of human magnetism. Whether you come as you are or as you want to pretend to be, Cupid's arrow is pointy.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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