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It's a he who's a she!

Writer: Anne Jamaludin


Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

A gender-bender is a person who wears the clothes and copies the behaviour of the opposite sex and the topic though not widely explored by filmmakers quite a number of on-screen gender-benders have 'graced' the silver screens with their quirky styles (and fashion sense). Some of them might have leave you in tears like "Mrs. Doubtfire" or "Yentl", tickle you silly with their comical antiques like "Big Momma" and "White Chicks" or they could make you wish you never see a man in a lady's dress ever again. Or you would pay a visit to the washroom to barf whatever you just had before watching the movie. In conjunction with the recent release of "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son", let us take a look at our picks of the cinema's most unforgettable gender-benders of all time.

 


'I'm not much of a man by the light of day, but by night I'm one hell of a lover' - Dr. Frank-N-Furter
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
"Frank: Do you think I made a mistake splitting his brain between the two of them?"

The movie adaptation of the British classic rock musical stageplay, "The Rocky Horror", written by Richard O'Brien (who played the incestuous butler Riff Raff in the movie) which is also a parody of sci-fi and B-movie horror films. For those who are familiar with the title, who could ever forget Dr. Frank-N-Furter (the name itself pokes fun to other sexual quirks), the self-proclaimed sweet transvestite from a fictional state Transsexual Transylvania who is played by Tim Curry in his first movie debut. Garbed in sequined leather two-piece mankini (and a dress), Curry's daring portrayal as the queer Frank in garters and 3-inch stilettos gave him his breakthrough in the film scene. It's certainly worth all the make-up and having his manhood in a bikini underwear. It is disturbingly good. Still in limited release 35 years after its premiere, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" has the longest-running theatrical release in film history. But you have to admit, "Sweet Transvestite" is one of the highlights in the film's musical core.

 


Julie Andrews as Victor/Victoria
Victor Victoria (1982)
"Victoria: Let me ask you a question.
Toddy: You want to know if I'm a homosexual.
Victoria: No. I want to know if you're a hypochondriac."

Victor Victoria is a famous Academy Award-winning comedy musical that involves transvestism and sexual identity as the theme, a remake of a 1933 German movie, "Viktor Und Viktoria". Featuring Julie Andrews as Victoria, a struggling soprano who receives help from an unlikely gay friend, Toddy. Together they hatched a plan to help them both by having Victoria pretending to be a man who is pretending to be a woman and get a job as a female impersonator in a nightclub with Toddy pretending to be her gay lover. Andrews certainly pulled of a very convincing she-male who made the tuxedo a fashion statement. Her performance of "Le Jazz Hot" had also become one of the most renowned musical film scenes in history.

 


Barbra Streisand stars in her very own directorial debut, "Yentl"
Yentl (1983)
"Yentl: Why is it people who want the truth never believe it when they hear it?"

Legendary performer Barbra Streisand stars in her very own directorial debut as the titular character, Yentl Mendel, a Jewish girl who decides to dress up as a man and take up his late brother's name Anshel to pursue education in a Jewish religious school. There, she meets a fellow student Avigdor (played by Mandy Patinkin) who is already betrothed to Hadass (Amy Irving). Things got complicated as Hadass falls from Yentl/Anshel while Yentl falls for Avigdor. The film's musical score and songs, composed by Michel Legrand, include the songs "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" and "The Way He Makes Me Feel", both sung by Streisand. The film received the Academy Award for Best Original Score and The Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture-comedy and Best Director for Streisand making her the first woman to have won Best Director at the Golden Globes.

 


Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane star as two robbers hiding from their mob boss by disguising themselves as nuns in "Nuns On The Run".
Nuns On The Run (1990)
"Brian Hope/Sister Euphemia: God is very busy. He can't control all the details. He's running a franchise operation."

In this "Sister Act" meets "The Naked Gun" movie, Eric Idle and Robbie 'Hagrid' Coltrane star in this crackpot comedy about two men, Brian and Charlie who are running away from their new mob boss after deciding to escape from the Triad. Fleeing from a gunfight on foot, they hide in a nunnery, dressing up as Nuns and introduced themselves as Sister Euphemia and Inviolata. Craziness ensues when the mob catches up to the disguising gentlemen and Brian's love interest Faith, gets thrown in the goose chase. Before someone screams blasphemy, the duo's comic grip makes the movie one of the most memorable nun movies ever exist. Who knew that before Robbie Coltrane was cast as a manly giant in "Harry Potter", he was a really good gender-bender?

 

 


Here's the white "Big Momma" for you! Robin Williams and his alter-ego, Mrs. Doubtfire
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
"Mrs. Doubtfire: Off your Mercedes, dear, you own that big expensive car out there? Oh, dear. Well, they say a man who has to buy a big car like that is trying to compensate for smaller genitals"

Funnyman Robin Williams proved that he is an outstanding even when he's six pounds with breasts! Based on the novel Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine, this comedy is about a man who got a divorce from his wife and in order to win a joint custody and be close to his children, Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) adopts the persona of a 60-year-old Scottish caretaker named Euphegenia Doubtfire to be the housekeeper of his ex-wife's home. A lot of whacky situations occurred as Daniel learns how to improve himself as man by being in a woman's suit. This film won an Academy Award for Best Makeup and it even inspired a movie version in Tamil ("Avvai Shanmughi" in 1996) and Hindi ("Chachi 420"), both starring Kamal Haasan.

 


Mulan, dressing up as a soldier with her family's guardian dragon, Mushu.
Mulan (1998)
"Mulan: Just because I look like a man doesn't mean I have to smell like one. Mushu: So a couple of guys don't rinse out their socks. Picky, picky, picky. Well, myself, I kinda like that corn chip smell."

Even Disney tapped into the gender-bender issue by portraying one of their Princesses, Hua Mulan, as a girl who tires of the customs and normalities expected of her and decides to take her old father's place in the army during a general conscription to counter a fictitious Hun invasion led by Shan Yu. The animation spawns a direct-to-video sequel in 2005 where she dons a man's grab once again to protect three princesses on a journey across China to be presented in an arrange marriage for China's political importance. The legend of Hua Mulan has also received a live-action film treatment in 2009, having Chinese actress Zhao Wei (Vicky Zhao) as Mulan and the director, Jingle Ma, has explained that this movie is vastly different from the Disney cartoon film and adheres more to his imagination. It is also rumoured that an English movie version will be directed by Jan de Bont, having Zhang Ziyi as Mulan and Jerry Yan as Li Shang, expected to be released in 2011.

 


If one Big Momma is not enough, try having two of them!
Big Momma's House (2000)
"Sherry: Oh, it's so good to see you, Big Momma. I thought you may forgotten all about me.
Malcolm Turner/Big Momma: Shut your mouth, child. Oh, Big Momma could never forget that ass...
Sherry: What?
Malcolm Turner/Big Momma: ...ma. Asthma. Do you remember you had asthma?"

This would be one of the most favourite Momma of all the cross-dressers in the movies. Martin Lawrence stars as an FBI agent Malcolm Turner who has to disguise himself as an overweight Southern black woman named Hattie Mae Pierce (who everyone calls Big Momma), who is also the grandmother of his suspect's ex-girlfriend, Sherry. Lawrence's comical portrayal as Big Momma spawned not a sequel but a trilogy. As a comedy fan's opinion, "Big Momma" is wholesome, funny and yet has a lot of family values in each movie as it follows Turner's relationship with his wife Sherry who is having their first baby together in "Big Momma's House 2" and in the 2011 movie, the franchise explores Turner's relationship with his stepson Trent. "Big Momma" is probably the best fictional nanny or caretaker ever exist and it is amazing how Lawrence can perform heavy action scenes in those layers of latex and sending the villains to the slammer towards the end of each movie.

 


Doofer, Dave and Adam or Roberta, Daisy and Adina in "Sorority Boys"
Sorority Boys (2002)
"Leah: I can guarantee you, that guy is a wham bam thank you ma'am! Daisy: No, no I heard he's a "Hello. How are you? You seem like a person I'd like to get to know. Can I take you out to dinner... Sometime, ma'am."

Three misfits Doofer (Harland Williams), Dave (Barry Watson) and Adam (Michael Rosenbaum) who got thrown out by their fraternity house Kappa Omicron Kappa (KOK) due to being framed were taken in by their opposing sorority Delta Omicron Gamma (DOG). Disguising as girls, they learnt how hard it is for a DOG girl every time they were ill-treated by KOK members. When they were forced to be 'behind enemy lines', they never expected to be a better man by being a woman. "American Pie" type of plot in a sorority setting, this movie is strictly for adults due to its mature nature; poking fun at woman's anatomy and a lot of other lewd jokes.

 


People seriously can't tell their differences?
White Chicks (2004)
"Kevin Copeland as Tiffany Wilson: First of all my doctor totally messes up my nose job. I ask him to make me looked like Gwyneth Paltrow, I get off the surgery table looking life freakin' Shrek. And then I get here and Mr. Harper! Makes me feel like I'm some dumb blonde with big boobs."

When black guys trying to be white girls? Only the Wayan brothers were daring enough to pull such feat without being excessively tacky. Shawn and Marlon Wayans star in their brother Keenen Ivory's direction as two FBI agents and brothers Kevin and Marcus, who after a flopped mission were restrained to desk duties. However, due to a last chance by their supervisor, they took up the job as bodyguards to mega-rich billionaires cruise line heiresses Brittany and Tiffany Wilson (who serves as a comical reference to the real life socialites, the Hilton sisters). When an accident occurs on the way to the Hamptons, the brothers had to take the places of the sisters at the lavish weekend event instead. Shawn and Marlon Wayans even plays around a gag of how some black men prefers a white girl with a black woman's derriere, when a 'brother' (played by "The Expendables" star Terry Crews) fell for one of them, after mistaking Kevin as Tiffany. As much as the slapstick humours will tickle most comedy lovers' funny bones, "White Chicks" received poor reactions from critics and was even nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture. Too much sexism and racism mixed into one with unconvincing prosthetics on top.

 


Cinema Online, 15 March 2011


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