Friday, July 1, 2022

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars' - Strong Direction Helps the Queens During an Acting Challenge in 'Santa's School for Girls'

Paramount+'s RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars - Episode 7.08 "Santa's School for Girls"

Ho ho ho! The queens make the yuletide gayer as they star in the twisted new holiday cult classic, "Santa's School for Girls." Acclaimed film director Janicza Bravo brings her expertise to set, and reviews the queens' performances on the judges panel.

Acting challenges are yet another staple of the show. However, they are always on the verge of falling flat. They depend so much on the writing to be unique and challenging. When that balance isn't right, then the entire challenge fails. It doesn't take much for this whole endeavor to become tedious. This episode proves why it's smart to actually hire an acclaimed director to helm this work. Sure, some could argue all of this is beneath Janicza Bravo. She would be better served just coming in as the guest judge on the runway. She took it all seriously. Plus, she was able to give direction in a way that was easily understood by all the queens. That energy has been lacking in previous seasons. Sure, the runway critiques still shower praise on everyone. The judges aren't asked to pick anything apart this season. They just want to enjoy the journey of seeing these winners compete again. That can also make some of their final decisions shocking. If everyone gets praise, then it's harder to single out the top two. It can quickly be justified as the people who deserve a Legendary Legend Star at that point in the competition. And yes, that has already been a slog on the competition. Of course, viewers are always going to disagree with the judges. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. The judges see more of the behind-the-scenes maneuvers. The editing tries its best to justify all the decisions made. It can still be sloppy from time to time. Here, it's evident that the queens who went into the challenge with a clear direction as informed by the roles given to them did the best. Everyone is capable of delivering a good performance. No one stands out as bad. However, several had to be pulled in the right direction in order to understand what they should be giving. As such, they simply had less time to fine tune what they could deliver in the challenge. The judges love it when the queens take those breakaway moments to steal focus. If a queen doubts herself in one area, it then makes it that much more difficult to recover even if the overall performance of the script is still solid.

As last week's winner, Trinity gets to assign the roles. She largely wants to give everyone the parts they want. The only drama comes when Jinkx and Monet vie for the same role. They audition and Jinkx is the clear winner. Trinity bucks that expectation and rewards her alliance. It's not exactly a secret. The other queens in the room even mock Monet for her talk of alliances this season. Again, it's something she cares about more than everyone else. That's not an inherently bad thing. The finale is quickly approaching. Jaida has three stars now. For the queens who linger at one, the pressure is increasing. That's most apparent with Monet and Shea. They were on top in the first week. Since then, they have been gradually moving along. They've done well but have lacked the momentum to recapture that glory. Everyone has been allowed to lap them essentially. They may not have the time to make up for that. Only a few challenges remain. Everyone know RuPaul still has some twists up her sleeve. The challenges aren't required to only reward one star per queen anymore. Anything can still happen. Jaida has been playing a strong social game. It's because she is so fun to be around. She doesn't take anything too seriously. She's a good time. She doesn't want to be blocked. She tries to argue that three stars may be enough to secure a spot in the finale already. As such, it may not be worth it to block her. Her spot may be certain. The other queens should fight amongst themselves. Of course, that argument doesn't pan out in the end. It's still admirable to see her try. Those are the moves necessary to earn favor and avoid the worst possible punishment. Right now isn't the time to get blocked. Too much is on the line to settle for that fate.

Leave it to RuPaul to have a Christmas-themed horror movie airing in the first few hours of July. It's so absurd. It's funny when Raja talks about Halloween being the superior holiday. That continues to showcase how she's off in her own world. She's perfectly comfortable talking back and volleying with the judges. Everyone is her peer. She respects that. She earns that as well. She is a standout in the challenge. That comes from her not simply going for the classic goth stereotypes. Instead, she's inspired by the girls she knew in high school. That makes it all seem relevant and believable. Jinkx also commits to a character right away. It's all informed by the voice. The vocal fry is annoying when it's just her randomly in the workroom. In the actual challenge, it features layers that provide the audience with a way in to understand all that she's going through. Of course, the headmaster was always going to be the standout role as she's the one ultimately killing everyone. The Vivienne understood all the references. She could deliver on each of them too. It's amazing. In fact, it's notable that Vivienne and Raja made RuPaul and Janicza laugh when they simply walked onto set. That established right away that they were the queens to watch. Raja, Vivienne and Jinkx had some truly special runways as well. "Knitty Knitty Bang Bang" is such a clever pun. Vivienne's gown absolutely looked heavy. That was troublesome at moments. The overall effect was still powerful. Jinkx has never looked more beautiful on the runway. She sparkled and once again delivered a regal character. And Raja simply knows how to construct an outfit playing around with different inspirations while providing a consistent vision. She somehow made knitted fabric look like metal chains! A lot of the queens evoked genuine reactions on the runway though. Monet looked stunning with her knitted puffer jacket. Yvie took everyone out of this world. Shea came through with a piece of art that requires and rewards close inspection to every detail. And finally, Jaida and Trinity embraced the idea of comfiness. Jaida was more successful with her interpretation mostly because the color scheme worked well together. The leopard print on Trinity clashed in a way that didn't ultimately compliment the knitted jacket over it.

Watching Raja is so much fun because she is performing solely for herself. She's always in her own little world. She understands the pressures and counters of the competition. She doesn't take herself too seriously. That may come from her understanding that she isn't the best lip sync artist in the competition. It's such a committed style though that is glorious to watch. Plus, Rick James' "Super Freak" fits her aesthetic so much better than Lizzo did earlier in the season. It's also a lip sync that rewards simplicity. That was a lesson Vivienne embraced completely when it came to Dolly Parton just a few episodes ago. That energy allowed her to prevail against Yvie. That was an impressive accomplishment. And now, Vivienne had a weird presentation onstage from the jump. She was wearing an actual t-shirt. Some girls put effort into their looks for the lip syncs. It's seen as them expecting to be in the top and asked to perform. It can also make them seem delusional for thinking so highly of themselves. It's humbling when they are sent to the side of the stage. Vivienne was obviously going to be in the top. She did have a whole routine planned. The t-shirt had purpose. It was simply striking in a competition that judges runway designs on a weekly basis. Pouring water on herself was very entertaining. It was a solid moment. And yes, one moment may be all it takes to prevail in a lip sync. One moment can be all it takes to loss a lip sync as well. Vivienne executes a crunchy cartwheel. She recovers nicely. It just doesn't compare to the consistency Raja offers. Plus, Raja's victory is deserving for her sheer behavior in going down the line picking who to block. Jaida is the obvious choice. Raja takes the opportunity to be sensual with everyone onstage. Again, this is Raja's world and we're just living in it. Please never let that change.