Review by Sean Boelman
The 2010s saw a tremendous surge in popularity of the drag scene with RuPaul’s Drag Race, but it has existed much longer than that. Angela Washko’s documentary Workhorse Queen explores that scene before and after the television show, and it’s an unexpectedly deep and emotional watch.
The film tells the story of Ed Popil, better known as Mrs. Kasha Davis, a drag queen who was one of the older contestants to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, as he attempts to make a name for his alter ego after his appearance on the show. For those who are fans of drag, it’s sure to be an interesting backstage documentary, but it will also appeal beyond that core niche.
Popil/Mrs. Kasha Davis makes for a very compelling documentary subject. A majority of the viewers of this film will likely be fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but Popil is more than a reality show contestant. The audience goes along for the ride, experiencing all of the ups and downs that Popil goes through in his life.
Much of the first of the film follows Mrs. Kasha Davis as she tries to make it as a drag queen, but the second half is more about Ed Popil and how he tries to balance his work and personal lives. This involves a really empathetic discussion of addiction that viewers probably won’t see coming when they tune in to a documentary about drag.
Admittedly, the pacing of the film isn’t the most effective, as it peaks really early. Although the stuff that comes in the final third of the film is somewhat moving, it’s almost anticlimactic to watch someone working so hard for something only for their dream to fall apart. There are some good moments in this portion, especially the alcoholism arc, but Washko loses track of the emotional core of the film.
It also feels as if the film is missing a lot of performance footage. Whether due to rights issues or a presumption of familiarity, the film features very little material of Mrs. Kasha Davis on stage. Granted, this allows the audience to identify more with Popil’s off-stage persona, but it doesn’t give an appreciation for his skills as a performer.
Otherwise, the film is mostly well-made. Washko follows her subject in a mostly fly-on-the-wall manner, with a few interviews to supplement the storytelling. There is a buoyant energy to much of the film, which fits well with the uplifting first half but not as much with the comparatively darker back half.
Workhorse Queen is the type of documentary that is sure to delight a particular audience, but has the potential to resonate with others as well. It’s deeper than one would expect, although not to a groundbreaking extent.
Workhorse Queen is now streaming online as a part of the 2021 Florida Film Festival, which runs April 8-22 in Orlando, FL.