HomeMoviesTribeca Review: Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts

Tribeca Review: Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts

Photo Credit: World of Wonder

In press for the new documentary about his life, Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts, the titular RuPaul’s Drag Race alum and All Stars 3 winner has called the film a, “snapshot of a golden age of drag.” There are ways in which the film, which premiered at Tribeca on Thursday night, feels like it perfectly captures the art form’s current mainstream popularity. We see Trixie aka Brian Firkus and other queens doing press for All Stars. We watch him and fellow Drag Race Season 7 alum, Katya Zamolodchikova aka Brian McCook, filming their Viceland Series, The Trixie and Katya Show. And it seems every few minutes, he travels to a new city to perform. However, while Moving Parts allows the viewer to see what it means to be a working drag queen right now, it is ultimately an intimate peek into one of the form’s most recognizable figures during a year of enormous personal and professional change.

The film begins with Firkus leading director Nicholas Zeig-Owens and crew to the fridge to look at pictures from his childhood. As he points to each one, Firkus is charmingly self-deprecating. “There was no help for me,” he says of a picture of himself kneeling and holding pom-poms in front of the Packers Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The moment is immediately contrasted, though, with footage of Trixie lip syncing RuPaul’s “Kitty Girls” in front of a cheering crowd. Right from the start, Moving Parts constantly juxtaposes Firkus’s crippling self-doubt and over-confidence and that tension carries throughout.

For much of the film, that’s driven by the way his personal and professional relationship with McCook crumbled in late 2017. Though the movie crew originally showed up to filming of the Viceland show for B-roll, they just happened to be there the day McCook had the “psychotic break” that drove him to go to rehab and quit drag for a few months. Both Trixie and Katya have made vague public references to that incident since and those scenes and resulting fallout will likely be the biggest draw for their fans.

That said, even viewers largely unaware of their work will be able tell something is about to happen from their very first interaction. When Katya tries to compliment Trixie’s stand-up writing, Firkus self-deprecates, but rather than laugh, McCook gets aggressive. Firkus attempts to brush off the moment, but McCook remains hostile until Firkus finds the right bit of humor to defuse the tension. Things only escalate from there. As Katya becomes more manic, Trixie clearly begins to shut down until filming stops altogether when, off camera but on mic, Katya tells Trixie, “I should be in rehab.” It’s a brutal scene and one that will resonate with any viewer who’s seen someone struggle with addiction regardless of their drag knowledge.

From then on, Katya’s absence hangs over the film, not just because the incident, as Firkus puts it, is, “probably gonna ruin [their] friendship,” but because he also worries, “Nobody’s gonna watch me without her.” Indeed, the cleverest thing about the way Zeig-Owens structures the film is that as we spend more time with Firkus, we see him prove both to himself and the audience that that he can stand on his own. However, tough as it can be, watching him struggle is the most compelling thing about the film.

While looking at a fan letter where the writer says watching Trixie saved their life, Firkus notes, “For some reason, I resonate with people who have depression.” He goes on to say that he doesn’t suffer from depression himself and the film leaves that assertion largely unexamined to an almost frustrating degree. Driven by the Katya situation or not, mental health is the recurring issue throughout and while Zeig-Owens explores it in a broad sense (a scene where the members of the All Stars 3 cast share their experiences with mental health issues is one of the film’s best) and Firkus is constantly talking about his emotional state, it never feels focused enough. He talks about his abusive childhood at the hands of his stepfather and how his mother simply let CPS take him out of the home when a teacher reported it, but not enough about how that upbringing still affects him. Firkus claims that he’s moved past it now and while it’s not necessarily the documentary’s job to interrogate Firkus’s mental health, given that his boyfriend is one of the film’s producers, it’s difficult not to wonder if another filmmaker might have pushed harder.

That said, while that restraint is at least understandable, it’s harder to justify in other cases. Like Drag Race, the film is produced by World of Wonder, and especially when it comes to the fan backlash surrounding Trixie’s All Stars win, it feels like the producers are trying to protect the brand. Firkus has talked a lot about the audience reaction since, but outside of a backstage discussion with Season 5’s winner, Jinkx Monsoon, it’s largely left out of the discussion here.

Instead, the film focuses on his reaction immediately after the episode airs while at the official live-viewing party at Chicago’s Roscoe’s Tavern. We watch Firkus respond to congratulations from other queens by explaining that he thought it would be a tie since multiple endings are filmed to keep spoilers from leaking. On some level, it’s just another example of Firkus’s tendency to self-deprecate, but it’s difficult not to wonder if Zeig-Owens and WOW keep the exchanges in to refute rumors that the 4th season’s tie ending was a last-minute decision.

In those moments especially, it seems clear that Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts will probably work best for viewers who are already fans of Drag Race or at least have a passing familiarity with the world. Too many of the personal and professional dynamics require fuller context to understand and those who don’t have it will be left adrift. However, for those fans, the documentary is required viewing. It gives a great behind-the scenes look at a world we already know so much about while painting an emotional, personal portrait of one of its most unique stars.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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