Film is a weird and wonderful thing. Even at its most fantastic and whimsical, movies have a way of creating a dreamlike reality – something that we know isn’t necessarily true but it certainly feels like it. So what happens when the wall that keeps reality and fantasy apart? That’s one of the primary layers in Lindy Heymann’s and Christian Taylor’s reality-bending mockumentary Showboy.
Taylor, a writer/producer from television’s cable hit Six Feet Under, is being followed by a documentary crew looking to see what it’s like to be a successful young Brit in Hollywood. When Taylor’s success becomes finite and he is fired from the show, he heads to the bright lights of Las Vegas where he tries to become a dancing showboy. He uses the guise of research to hide his firing from the documentary crew, but they already know and choose not to let on to see where their film might take them.
Unlike other mockumentaries such as those of Christopher Guest like Waiting for Guffman and A Mighty Wind, Showboy has the added layer of focusing on a real person in a made up situation. With a foot in reality, fact and fiction blend in a way that is sometimes surreal. With the first-person interviews, is it the real Christian’s head we’re looking into or is it the fictional persona? Is there a difference? Can there be much of a difference when you introduce the technical conventions such as editing and inclusion that film brings with it? Showboy blurs these lines but does so in a fashion that is most entertaining.
Besides tracing the journey of Christian as he attempts to fake his way into the Vegas spotlights, Showboy frolics in the flamboyant and over-the-top shows presented to patrons between slot machine binges and Blackjack showdowns. The characters are colourful, pompous and delightful. Most of the people are folks you wouldn’t want to be friends with because they are so full of themselves but they’re fun to laugh at. But I guess that’s show business for you.
The main beef that I have with Showboy is that it plays out with everyone knowing that Christian was fired but Christian is in the dark. He tries to hide the fact and in doing so comes up with a story on how the Vegas dancer angle is all a part of research. Why couldn’t he just have come out and said that he was fired and he was aiming for something on the opposite end of the entertainment spectrum? The deception doesn’t do much for the story anyhow other than needlessly complicating things. The only reason that I could think of was that Christian’s hiding was symbolic of his sexuality and unwillingness to come out of the closet, if you will. But this isn’t played out either. His sexuality doesn’t play a part of the story. It’s out in the open just like the false pretence on which Christian tries dancing but there’s still somewhat of a sense of oppressed feelings behind it, like he was a touch ashamed.
In the end, it’s the opposite that’s argued and done so successfully. Showboy is a film that praises living through instinct and gut reactions, following through on what your heart tells you to do. The film is made all the more fascinating by keeping a small and twisted foot in a bizarre reality befitting the glitz and glamour of show business.