by Rob Gonsalves
Margaret Cho has described 'Bam Bam and Celeste' as "a fag and fag-hag 'Dumb and Dumber.'" It's actually closer to a gay-friendlier 'Romy & Michele's High-School Reunion' (which was already pretty gay-friendly), and even shares two of its stars, Alan Cumming and Elaine Hendrix. I guess Janeane Garofalo and Camryn Manheim were busy, or they'd have done cameos as well.I'm a Margaret Cho fan, though in a couple of her recent concert films she has drifted away from comedy into liberal call-and-response sessions meant to offer catharsis to her audience. All to the good, I suppose, though I like her better when she isn't telling me stuff I already believe. Then there's Bam Bam and Celeste, which mostly isn't especially political, but also isn't especially funny. Amiable enough to produce the occasional indulgent chuckle, and colorfully photographed to resemble the cotton candy it obviously wants to be, the movie is light and inoffensive but lacks the depth and revolutionary bite of Cho's best stand-up material.
Celeste (Cho) and Bam Bam (Bruce Daniels, Cho's frequent opening act) are misfits stranded in DeKalb, Illinois. Celeste has the Manic Panic pixie look going on; Bam Bam, a makeup artist, is the sort of man-hungry, swishy queen that'd be considered a stereotype in any other film — and, though the film (written by Cho) clearly has affection for him, he is a stereotype. Almost everyone else in the movie is, too, except Celeste, who is allowed quirks like running a website called dictatorssuckass.com. That doesn't have much to do with the plot, except that it sets up Celeste with Eugene (Alan Cumming), assistant on the New York makeover show Trading Faces; turns out he's a fan of her site. Eugene is there so Celeste can pair off with someone, I guess, though the sight of Alan Cumming kissing a woman in the gayest film I've seen since 300 has its own amusement factor.
Cho must've enjoyed Elaine Hendrix as one of the three bitches who tormented Romy and Michele in high school, because she returns here as essentially the same character, played with snarky brio ("I am not...done... TALKINNNG!" she snarls at Bam Bam at one point; "Actually, I'm done," she adds — the comedy's all in the delivery). Hendrix is now allied against Bam Bam and Celeste in competition on Trading Faces (hosted by a smarmy John Cho); Bam Bam will make Celeste over and show off his genius. The result is unintentionally funny, as Celeste comes out looking perfectly presentable and professional and rather dull (shades of Ally Sheedy's makeover from goth to boring in The Breakfast Club), something like how she comes off here in general. Neither Cho nor Daniels really commit to their characters; they just seem to be "doing" their respective types as they would in a brief onstage bit.
Bam Bam and Celeste starts out as a road comedy, allowing Cho to bring out the butch-dyke stereotype with Jane Lynch as a shotgun-totin', trailer-dwellin', wood-choppin', everythin'-but-tobaccy-chewin' lesbian living in an otherwise racist, homophobic backwater. Bigots in this movie exist primarily so that Cho can yell "Fuck you" at them, a touch calculated to elicit many "You go, girl" whoops at gay film festival showings. This is Cho's first feature-length screenplay, and it has the rambling, slightly dizzy quality of her blog entries. It's cute enough, a box of chocolates for her fans, though probably lost on the uninitiated.As onstage, Cho's most inspired moments find her in old-Korean-woman drag playing Celeste's mom, who looks and sounds exactly like Cho doing her own mom in concert. That alone earns this friendly but uneven movie a fourth star. Speaking in her mom's halting, sweetly oblivious but accepting voice ("Use condom!" Mom barks at Celeste; "No glove, no love! Hah! Your mommy cool!"), Cho hits genuinely surreal and hilarious notes. One day, perhaps, Cho will learn to write other characters as quirkily ornery and individualized. Failing that, she could always just hand an entire movie over to her mom.
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originally posted: 10/05/07 22:02:29