Victor Victoria, 1982
Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, and John Rhys-Davies.
Synopsis (from NetFlix):
Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a struggling soprano who, with help from a fellow performer (Robert Preston), finally finds success by posing as a male female impersonator. But what will happen when a nightclub owner (James Garner) finds himself attracted to Victoria’s cross-dressing male persona and begins to suspect “Victor” is really a woman? This gender-bending musical comedy received seven Oscar nominations and won for Best Score.
Firstly, any film which discusses gender roles and sexuality is bound to be controversial, even if it was made over 25 years ago, so before I go any further I would like to preface that whatever your opinion regarding homosexuality is, as well as of people who hold a different view than your own, please keep this spiritual guidance in mind before commenting:
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” ~ Matthew 7:1-5 (New International Version)
O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me. ~
I’m looking for something
a little more illegitimate.
Victoria: I’m sure that with a little practice l…
Manager: Lady. That’s like a nun saying, with practice, she’d be a streetwalker.
However, Victoria is hungry and is about to be evicted so she is willing to compromise her virtue. Toddy, a Gay nightclub performer, shows her kindness and as a result comes up with the idea that she should pretend to be a drag queen. Victoria is initially skeptical:
Victoria: Toddy, I don’t know how to act like a man.
Toddy: Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts… there are different men who act in different ways.
Victoria: I mean, as opposed to the way women act.
Toddy: I am personally acquainted with at least a dozen men who act exactly like women…and vice versa.
Victoria: But there are some things that are naturally masculine.
Toddy: Name one.
Victoria: Peeing standing up.
This is interesting to me because it is true that society has carved out roles for men and roles for women and those who do not fit into those roles can feel excluded, or worse yet have assumptions made about them. We should love all people and should not try to constrain people unnecessarily and unequally (clearly there are some social constraints that are necessary, like punishing theft or murder, but they should be applied across the board, regardless of gender or creed. The constraints I am talking about here are things like not allowing certain people to pursue a profession based on their gender, class, or creed.)
Apparently there is no market for a woman with amazing musical talent, but there is a market for a man who can impersonate a woman with amazing musical talent. However there is no man, so now a woman must pretend to be a man, who is pretending to be a woman.
This amuses me. Truly, it is all about perception. It should not matter if it is a man or a woman, we are equal in the sight of God, yet for the audience it does. Perhaps because a man should not naturally be able to sing that high, or perhaps because it forces them to wonder about gender roles.
Victoria ends up being wildly successful but is conflicted when she begins to develop feelings for a man. If she were to pursue the relationship it would either out her as a woman, or cause people to think that the man was gay. Eventually they get together clandestinely but it soon becomes a problem:
Victoria: I mean, a woman pretending to be man pretending to be…
King: Well, you can stop pretending.
Victoria: And do what?
King: Be yourself.
Victoria: But, you see, I don’t think I want to. I’m a big star now. I’m a success… And something more. I find it all really fascinating. There are things available to me as a man…that I could never have as a woman. I’m emancipated.
Victoria: Would it be fair for me to ask you to give up your job?
King: lt’d be ridiculous.
Victoria: But you expect me to give up mine.
King: There’s a difference, for Christ’s sake!
Victoria: Right, but there shouldn’t be.
King: Well, look, I’m not the one pretending to be someone else.
I think there are two very different and equally important spiritual truths in this conversation that need to be teased out. Both Victoria and King have valid points. Victoria has experienced injustice. Despite her talent and hard work, as a woman she was not able to find employment. Also, once she got used to pretending to be a man she realized how much more freedom this lifestyle afforded her (this is the 1930s). Victoria shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to get work, she shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to be respected, yet this was the case.
O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. ~
King is right though about her pretend game. In the end she is lying, to herself and to the world. What starts as innocent deception can cause a lot of emotional and social turmoil. As much as we want to correct injustice we cannot do so by being unjust ourselves.
Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
The ending of the film was a bit confusing and unsatisfying, personally, because it did not resolve these problems. Instead it seemed that Victoria chose to be with King and to give up her career, but maybe she will be able to continue singing now that people love her. After all they clapped before she “revealed” she was a “man” so hopefully they would still enjoy the beautiful music despite the vessel it is in.
I've always felt this way about female impersonators: They may not be as pretty as women, or sing as well, or wear a dress as well, but you've got to hand it to them; they sure look great and sing pretty--for men. There are no doubt, of course, female impersonators who practice their art so skillfully that they cannot be told apart from real women--but that, of course, misses the point. A drag queen should be maybe 90 percent convincing as a woman, tops, so you can applaud while still knowing it's an act.
Insights like these are crucial to Blake Edwards's “Victor/Victoria,” in which Julie Andrews plays a woman playing a man playing a woman. It's a complicated challenge. If she just comes out as Julie Andrews, then of course she looks just like a woman, because she is one. So when she comes onstage as "Victoria," said to be "Victor" but really (we know) actually Victoria, she has to be an ever-so-slightly imperfect woman, to sell the premise that she's a man. Whether she succeeds is the source of a lot of comedy in this movie, which is a lighthearted meditation on how ridiculous we can sometimes become when we take sex too seriously.
The movie is made in the spirit of classic movie sex farces, and is in fact based on one (a 1933 German film named “Viktor Und Viktoria,” which I haven't seen). Its more recent inspiration is probably “La Cage aux Folles,” an enormous success that gave Hollywood courage to try this offbeat material. In the movie, Andrews is a starving singer, out of work, down to her last franc, when she meets a charming old fraud named Toddy, who is gay, and who is played by Robert Preston in the spirit of Ethel Mertz on "I Love Lucy." Preston is kind, friendly, plucky, and comes up with the most outrageous schemes to solve problems that wouldn't be half so complicated if he weren't on the case. In this case, he has a brainstorm: Since there's no market for girl singers, but a constant demand for female impersonators, why shouldn't Andrews assume a false identity and pretend to be a drag queen? "But they'll know I'm not a man!" she wails. "Of course!" Preston says triumphantly.
The plot thickens when James Garner, as a Chicago nightclub operator, wanders into Victor/Victoria's nightclub act and falls in love with him/her. Garner refuses to believe that lovely creature is a man. He's right, but if Andrews admits it, she's out of work. Meanwhile, Garner's blond girlfriend (Lesley Ann Warren) is consumed by jealousy, and intrigue grows between Preston and Alex Karras, who plays Garner's bodyguard. Edwards develops this situation as farce, with lots of gags depending on split-second timing and characters being in the wrong hotel rooms at the right time. He also throws in several nightclub brawls, which aren't very funny, but which don't much matter. What makes the material work is not only the fact that it is funny (which it is), but that it's about likable people.
The three most difficult roles belong to Preston, Garner, and Karras, who must walk a tightrope of uncertain sexual identity without even appearing to condescend to their material. They never do. Because they all seem to be people first and genders second, they see the humor in their bewildering situation as quickly as anyone, and their cheerful ability to rise to a series of implausible occasions makes “Victor/Victoria” not only a funny movie, but, unexpectedly, a warm and friendly one.