In her enchanting feature debut writer/director Shaz Bennett spares no punches in showing how brutal and isolated Alaska can be especially if you are anything different than the norm. Leo (newcomer Martin L. Washington Jr.) is just that and more. He may work gutting fish in a Cannery by day, but at night this black gay youth is a fierce and fabulous diva who loves nothing more than donning a sequin gown to perform. The other passion in his life is his twin sister Tristen (Maya Washington no relation though) who he shares a scrappy trailer home with and supports her as she battles with cancer.
Leo makes no effort to ever pretend to be anyone that he is not to make it any easy to assimilate with his rough workmates who like to spend every non-working moment traveling in packs, drinking and looking for fights. The ringleader Kyle (Christopher O’Shea) is so gung-ho in trying to beat up Leo on the merest excuse because, as it turns out that he has a hidden agenda. However, Leo has learned a few nifty self-defense moves and so can hold his own, so much so that his boss Diego (Jason Scott Lee) encourages to take up boxing.
Into this scenario enters newcomer Declan (Matt Dallas) who had been lured to Alaska with his father with the promise of an easy fortune which never materialized, and he is now seeking work at the Fish Cannery. He is quite the loner, and instead of joining in with the rest of his crude beer-swilling workmates, takes a shine to Leo, and they form an unlikely friendship.
The only thing keeping Leo and Tristan there is the lack of money, and after paying for her chemo treatment they have been trying to save money to go see their mother in Las Vegas who had abandoned them when they were toddlers. For the first few years there had been a steady flow of postcards from her that had kept their dreams of a reconciliation alive, but now that these have dried up, they are desperate to go visit.
Suddenly they are offered the possible means to make this happen with an invite to perform in a national drag show if they can submit an audition tape. They persuade Jan (a sublime Margaret Cho) to allow them to do this in her perpetually empty bar which they insist is gay even though there is no-one else there asides from a few local drunks. There is also the possibility of getting some prize money in a proper boxing match when the opponent is Kyle which is a real win-win situation for Leo.
The movie was very successfully developed from a short with the same name and with its intriguing story which paints such a compelling picture of life on the edges for this determined and very likable young man. Kudos to Bennet for her fully-rounded and unique characters that are totally void of the usual cliched stereotypes that sadly seep into so many LGBT dramas. Casting was spot on with the two young talented Washingtons giving spot-on performances, and for the subtle chemistry between Leo and Matt Dallas as Declan, his friend and sparring partner was particularly refreshing. Besides this, the sight of Margaret Cho performing an original sing dressed as a Drag King is probably worth the price of admission alone.
Bennett’s story is one of hope which seemed to be otherwise in short supply in this god-forsaken corner of the world, and although the happy ending was not one that young Leo had dreamed off, just the reality of being able to leave Alaska behind would have been more than enough for him. And for us too.