Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is up there as one of the greatest ever committed to the silver screen. It is brimming with energy, osculating between youthful exuberance and vicious anger, and always dominating the screen. The film itself is highly concerned with gender and relationship politics as the characters engage in an epic battle of psychological warfare. It’s not surprising that this film is a source of fascination for filmmaker Anna Margarita Albelo and that she wanted to explore the same themes through a queer lens. The trouble is that Albelo doesn’t have the talent to create anything more than a weak imitation, and her attempts to blend comedy with dramatics is hit and miss at best.
The result is Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?, a film that works a little too hard to hit all the prescribed story beats. It’s formulaic to a fault: take the outline of any Hollywood romantic comedy, swap all the male characters out for females, add a healthy dose of references and middle-aged woman dancing around in a vagina costume and, voila!
There are moments of genuine originality in the film, but in trying to walk the line between popular appeal and intellectualism, it never really finds its own footing, content to be relegated to the mildly amusing. Every scene that is reenacted from the original film pales in comparison and highlights the weak acting. Everything is played broadly for laughs, but doesn’t quite make it to the camp mark Albelo seems to be going for. Funny scenes get bogged down by made-up quotes from Godard (which is so very Godardian) and obscure theorists that only the most dedicated of scholars have even heard of. Set along side some of the more crude jokes, it comes off as pretentious.
Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? is at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Albelo is clearly more comfortable with cheap gags and humour than with the deep dramatics, and she has a decent handle on the sweet, gooey feel good stuff as well. The dramatics might have come off better if she had assembled a stronger cast, but it almost feels as if some weird camp flick that falls miserably short is what she was going for. If she had stuck to her strengths, this could have been an entertaining little comedy. Instead, there are glimmers of a wonderfully bizarre sense of humour that has been suffocated by the legacy of Elizabeth Taylor.
Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival runs from May 22 – June 1. Read more Inside Out coverage.