A new hero will rise in theaters this fall in the shape of an eccentric teenager named Billy Bloom, who chooses to fight back against intolerance at his ultra- conservative high school.
Based on the award-winning cult novel by James St. James, Freak Show follows Billy Bloom (Alex J. Lawther) who once lived a fabulous life in Connecticut with his equally eccentric mother, Muv (Bette Midler). But once he's shipped off to his father's (Larry Pine) Southern mansion, his integrity is put to the test.
Joining Lawther, Midler, and Pine in the cast are Laverne Cox, Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb, Ian Nelson, Celia Watson, and Willa Fitzgerald. Boy George's latest cover of "Viva Las Vegas" is also featured. Freak Show was produced by actress/director Trudie Styler's production company, Maven Pictures, and Drew Barrymore's company, Flower Films.
A compelling, sometimes ironic and raw, spotlight on high school bullying, Styler's directorial debut exposes the trauma inflicted by those who suffer from bullies while bringing to light the consequences both teachers and parents face as a result.
Styler, who's been married to Sting for 25 years, was deeply connected to the story, having been bullied in school herself due to a facial scar she received as a toddler after being run down by a truck.
"[The kids] called me 'scar face,'" she tells The Advocate. "I felt myself as a loser as a child and teenager. And the corridors of school were shaming. You had to get from one class to another, traversing a hallway, and the students would be lined up left and right, watching everyone walk by, scrutinizing. It was like a catwalk."
Styler uses the experiences in her high school corridors as a springboard to shoot one of the film's most poetic scenes -- when Billy gets beaten up. While she wanted the scene to be heart wrenching and aggressive, Styler says she did not want it to be violent, but rather have a visual "almost like a danse macabre" and for it be full of "kinetic energy," with the corridors to seemingly have their own personalities.
With his closet of extravagant and flamboyant attire, Billy is completely different from the cheerleaders, bible belles, and beefy quarterbacks at his new high school. Yet despite the well-meant advice of his father and his housekeeper, Florence (Celia Weston), that he should just throw on some blue jeans, Billy is determined to be himself -- even if that means wearing face glitter to school.
Billy soon finds himself up against ultimate mean girl Lynette (Abigail Breslin) in a battle of tolerance versus ignorance. Billy's indomitable spirit rises once again to challenge the conservative traditions of Grant Academy, taking him on a journey that will lead to extraordinary and hilarious results.
Styler and Sting have been staunch advocates for environmental legislation, as well as continuing to champion the rights of indigenous people for over 35 years. Freak Show acts as a lighthouse for parents, and Styler hopes it will be a call for action to bring forth serious change in the world.
"I think adults -- no matter what gender, creed, or race -- can all learn," the mother of four says. "We're given a life where all people should be born free to be themselves, to be able to express themselves as the people they are. We're at a point in our evolution where we have everything to do everything good -- to do good work, to be inclusive, to be compassionate, to be tolerant -- and yet the world seems to be pushing against all those things we have at our fingertips. We seem to be intent on destruction and pushing to the right, in wanting people to have less, and not sharing."
Styler also points to the Trump administration as a fine example of a bully's impact. "Look at this administration," she points out. "It's repealing all the things Obama has put in place. We have to ask ourselves: 'What is it that we've done that's created this world? How can we go on? What can we teach our kids, and how can we do things better?' I think the only way is that we all have to stand together, be together, and come together. Treat each other better."
These examples have to begin, surely, in our places of education. If schools take a strong stance on inclusivity and really deal with bullying in a very substantial way, that's the only way we can go forward into the workplace and know that bullying is not civilized human behavior. It's unacceptable."
Freak Show will be playing at NewFest on Friday, October 20 in New York City. For more information, visit NewFest.org. Watch a clip below: