Mardi Gras Film Festival 2023 Review: The Winner Takes It All ★★★

A gigolo, a drag queen, and a porn star scheme their way to a motherload of cash in fashion photographer James Demitri’s feature debut as writer-director, The Winner Takes It All. This film is utter trash. That’s not a read, it’s the aesthetic. This is a deliberately, deliciously trashy comedy caper that won’t come anywhere near tickling your highbrow tastebuds, but may get a tingle or two from your nethers.

Iconic Sydney drag queen Maxi Shield plays Maxine Fowler, an iconic Sydney drag queen (okay, this isn’t a huge stretch admittedly). When her best friend, wealthy socialite Kiki Rich, discovers that her gigolo husband Hunter (fitness model, musician and OnlyFans star Manuel Kornisiuk) is cheating on her, they hatch a plot to find out the truth, and protect her fortune. What Kiki doesn’t realize is that Maxine is the other woman! To add to the melodrama, Maxine is also unaware that Hunter is working with killer/porn star Randy Cole (Jack Stratton-Smith). There are plots within plots, as this trio of money hungry hornbags lie, cheat, and double-cross their way to the cash or their graves.

Just to be clear, if you’re looking “cinema”, then this probably in’t the film for you. There may be touches of John Waters in the premise and execution, but when I say “touches” I mean in a Scissor Sisters “MTA stands for Mutha-fuckers Touching my Ass” kinda way. The Winner Takes It All is gonzo, low-fi, colourful and incredibly stupid. Tiny rooms make for awkward framing at times, while some of the audio sounds like a badly dubbed porno—ah, remember the good old days of badly dubbed porn?!—the performances are so big the word ‘broad’ doesn’t cover it, and as for the script… well, remember old-school porn movie might give you a flavour of that too.

Maxi Shield in The Winner Takes it All. Courtesy of Queer Screen’s 30th Mardi Gras Film Festival.

What it lacks in polished filmmaking and storytelling though, it makes up for in rude charm and sexy shots of Kornsiuk. A couple of  music video style sequences bring to mind the middle years of Baywatch when you’d have a thoughtful montage of someone running along the beach as they sort out their emotional baggage (and help fill the running time with bouncing body parts).

While some will adore The Winner Takes it All for its crass silliness and ‘switch-your-brain-off’ appeal, others will likely leave thinking it was a waste of collective effort and a blight on Australian cinema! I’m weirdly in both camps.

By Chad Armstrong

The Winner Takes it All receives its world premiere at Queer Screen’s 30th Mardi Gras Film Festival on February 18th, 2023. The screening includes a special Q&A with writer-director James Demitri, with actors Maxi Shield, Jessica Marchi, Manuel Kornisiuk and Jack Stratton-Smith, followed by an after party. Click here for tickets and more info.

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