April 26, 2019
by Carla Hay
Directed by Nick Zeig-Owens
World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 25, 2019.
Brian Michael Firkus, also known as drag queen Trixie Mattel, is best known for winning Season 3 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” the spin-off show to VH1’s Emmy-winning drag-queen competition series “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” This documentary examines Trixie’s rise to fame, her budding career as a singer/comedian and her personal behind-the-scenes struggles. For all of her flamboyant and sassy prancing and preening that she does on stage, the documentary reveals that off-stage, Trixie is quite grounded and humble. Even when chaos is are happening around her, she remains fairly level-headed.
It should be noted that “Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts” is produced by World of Wonder, the same production company for the “Drag Race” series. That might explain why parts of the documentary look more like a publicist-approved electronic press kit than a revealing biography. Trixie/Brian’s love life is not seen or discussed at all in the film. It’s unclear if Trixie/Brian (who is openly gay) wanted that subject matter to be off-limits in the movie, or if director Nick Zeig-Owens made that decision all on his own.
Most of the movie was filmed in the period of time after Trixie’s first stint on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” where she came in sixth place on Season 7. Trixie then parlayed that fame into a stint co-hosting two talk shows with fellow “Drag Race” alum Katya Zamolodchikova: “UNHhhh” on World of Wonder’s YouTube channel and then later “The Trixie & Katya Show” on Viceland. As fans already know, “The Trixie & Katya Show” was canceled after Katya took a leave of absence to deal with personal issues.
The documentary brings some insight into what really went on behind the scenes. While in a dressing room getting ready for a show, Katya (whose real name is Brian Cook) openly discusses her anxiety issues and doing meth to cope with her problems. She talks about having a “psychotic break” and even loudly declares, “I should be in rehab.” Not long after that outburst, on another day, Katya has a meltdown and refuses to do the show. Shortly afterward, Katya is in rehab, and the show scrambles to do reshoots and find a replacement guest host.
Meanwhile, Trixie/Brian admits to feeling mixed emotions about Katya’s abrupt leave of absence—anger that Katya has jeopardized Trixie’s career; guilt that the resentment he feels toward Katya is a selfish emotion; and relief that Katya is getting the help that she needs. Trixie tries to be a supportive pal, but to her surprise, Katya ends their friendship. In one scene, Trixie reads aloud a vicious email from Katya in which she calls Trixie “arrogant” and “boring” on the show, and ends the email by saying, “Do what I did, bitch. Fail.” (Fans of Trixie and Katya already know if their friendship was mended, but for those who don’t know, the answer to that question is covered in the documentary.)
After the cancellation of the talk shows with Katya, Trixie forges ahead to launch a singing career in country music, with aspirations to be a drag-queen alternative to Dolly Parton. (Trixie tours on a regular basis, and has released two albums so far: 2017’s “Two Birds” and 2018’s “One Stone.” She also did a performance at the world premiere of “Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts” at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.) As for Trixie’s singing talent, she’s no Dolly Parton, but she’s not terrible either. She’s fully aware that she has to do her drag act as a country singer because audiences come to see Trixie, not Brian, on stage. (Although the documentary does show Brian doing soundchecks and rehearsals while not in drag.)
The estrangement from Katya has tested Trixie’s confidence, and she wonders aloud how much fans will accept her as a comedian without being part of a duo with Katya. There are many scenes in the documentary of Trixie on tour, meeting fans, getting dolled up, showing viewers her wardrobe, and going to “Drag Race” viewing parties. The movie also features appearances by drag queens such as RuPaul, Morgan McMichaels, Bob the Drag Queen, BenDeLaCreme and Kennedy Davenport.
Trixie mentions that there were two different endings filmed for her “Drag Race All Stars” finale, presumably to avoid spoilers from leaking out to the public. In one ending, Trixie was named the winner. In the other ending, finalists Trixie and Shangela were named the winners in a tie. She found out the real outcome at the same time as everyone else who watched the finale at the viewing party
A lot of people might think that a documentary about a drag queen would have a lot of histrionics from the star of the movie. But Trixie does not fall into the stereotype of being a hysterical drama queen. In fact, even when Trixie wins “Drag Race All-Stars,” she’s happy, but she she’s not jumping up and down, and she’s not crying uncontrollably. Even when she goes through some tough times emotionally, particularly during her period of estrangement from close friend Katya, Trixie doesn’t really cry on screen.
Brian/Trixie uses humor to deflect a lot of emotional pain, and it’s clear that he/she prefers to compartmentalize and hide away the pain rather than to let it all hang out—at least not in front of these documentary cameras. Brian briefly opens up about his unhappy childhood that included an abusive, alcoholic stepfather who Brian says often beat him. According to Brian, the last time his stepfather (who is now deceased) abused him was when he pointed a gun at Brian’s head and said he was going to kill him. Fortunately, Brian has a healthy and loving relationship with his mother, who is shown in the documentary when he goes to his hometown of Milwaukee while on tour.
Even though Brian says in the documentary that he grew up thinking it was normal to feel like wanting to die, he doesn’t consider himself to be a depressed person now. He admits that many people, including Trixie’s fans, assume that Brian/Trixie has issues with anxiety and/or depression. There are a few scenes in the movie when he gets emotionally touched when fans write to him or tell him in person how much Trixie has helped them with their confidence and/or mental-health issues.
Underneath the big hair and big personality, Trixie says she’s a songwriter at heart. When she confesses her life goals, she says it in a way that is very Trixie Mattel: “I would love to write songs for other people…just sit in the woods…and jerk off.” She also explains why mainstream audiences have embraced drag queens more than ever before: “They’re there to see this delusional confidence.”
UPDATE: World of Wonder will release “Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts” on several VOD platforms (including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Microsoft Movies) on December 3, 2019.