When you realize you’re gay, often at a young age, you immediately pledge allegiance to one pop diva in particular and stan her for life (think: Britney, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé). It’s a mandatory rite of passage for many, and a very niche, specific kind of fandom that’s rarely depicted on screen. Instead, movie musicals starring said divas tend to be mainstream affairs like “Dreamgirls” or “A Star Is Born“, which hold massive gay appeal, true, but also speak to wider audiences as well.

But what about the forgotten divas? The one-hit wonders who hit #17 on the charts two decades ago with an undeniable bop that no one seems to remember but you? These icons are just as integral to the life of a gay pop stan in their own way, yet this kind of fandom is even more hidden, unknown to anyone who hasn’t experienced that kind of obsession for themselves.   

Well, now you can finally catch a glimpse of this uniquely queer world, thanks to the feature debut of French writer/director Alexis Langlois, who offers up a glittery, shimmering deep dive into queer fandom that pulsates with toxic obsession. 

Premiering at this year’s Cannes Critics’ Week, “Queens of Drama (Les Reines du Drame)” follows the rise and fall of a young pop idol named Mimi Madamour (Louiza Aura) whose tempestuous romance with punk icon Billie Kohler (Gio Ventura) threatens to consume them both. The story starts in 2005 at a “Stars in the Making” audition, which will be horribly familiar to anyone who lived through the height of the noughties “American Idol” style influx of singing competitions. Yes, they really were — and sometimes continue to be — as cruel as you remember, but Langlois exaggerates that general ickiness further still with caricatured judges who are even more cruel.   

Still, Mimi manages to secure a place in the competition and briefly goes onto huge success, unlike Billie, whose gender is instantly questioned before she’s laughed out of the room. Classic noughties vibes. But Billie is determined to succeed on her own terms, as seen early on when Mimi stumbles across her singing lyrics like “Pumped up chicks, pecs so slick” and “You and me will fuck the patriarchy” with her band, The Slits.

Defiantly queer and infinitely sexy, Billie’s sensual punk hits with the band are a world removed from the song that goes on to define Billie’s career. But “Don’t Touch,” a smooth catchy europop single — think Dua Lipa if she was French and started recording ten years earlier — is a certified bop in its own right too, guaranteed to join the likes of other fictional onscreen bangers like Ally’s “Why Did You Do That?” and Ashley O’s “On a Roll.”

“Queens of Drama” isn’t just a critique of the music industry. It’s a musical in its own right, so Langlois collaborated with established French artists, including performer Rebeka Warrior and the band Yelle, to craft the kind of legitimately great camp masterpieces that baby gays may very well dedicate their own lives to once the film hits wide release. Rebeka actually became a huge source of inspiration for the character of Billie while Yelle bring their vibrant mix of lively music with heartbreaking lyrics à la Carly Rae Jepsen to the poppier numbers.

Well, mostly heartbreaking. The film’s signature love song includes the refrain “You fisted me to the heart,” which is possibly the single greatest lyric written this century (Diane Warren could never), and the fact that this song crops up again later in a meaningful reprise with Broadway-style staging that could have been lifted from Broadway is even more inspired. Langlois lists a number of classic musicals as reference points in the press notes, including Bob Fosse’s “All that Jazz,” Chantal Akerman’s “Golden Eighties,” and Brian De Palma’s “Phantom of the Paradise,” but “Queens of Drama” is more formally daring than any of those picks might suggest.

Beyond the theatrical and music video homages, Langlois also incorporates a kaleidoscope of wider pop culture references that draw from the internet and TV alike, including Lorie, Ophélie Winter, and Britney’s 2007 breakdown, which is painfully echoed here in Mimi’s downfall. This emphasis on the noughties is filtered through perhaps the most toxic byproduct of that era, the conceited Youtuber who brashly believes themself to be the final word on anything and everything. 

We’re first introduced to Steevyshady (Bilal Hassani) as an aging Mimi stan in 2055. He’s the one who frames his beloved diva’s story for us using an acidic tongue — “I destroyed careers with a bat of my fake eyelashes” — and grotesque expressions twisted by decades of botox abuse. His love for Mimi is also abusive, drawing on the darkest, most sinister corners of fandom to hurt her and attack Billie too in misguided notions of so-called “love.” But “Queens of Drama” isn’t just about what can go wrong in the music industry. It’s also a celebration of music at its most emotional, its most potent, and what better way to explore that than through a musical where the inner lives of the film’s protagonists can continue off stage even after their main performances are over and done with? 

Said protagonists are electric to watch no matter what Langlois asks of them, and he sure does ask a lot of them. Aura and Ventura are more than up to the task, tackling their characters across multiple decades, music eras, and endlessly shifting fashions. They feel like the stars they’re meant to be, embodying all the charisma you’d need and expect from idols who could inspire such vivid reactions in their fans. Through no fault of their own, there is a slight scrappiness to the whole endeavor, and at times, “Queens of Drama” risks losing sight of what it’s trying to say. But that messy approach is very deliberate. By channeling the chaos of noughties fandom and exploitation in music, Langlois provides the kind of thrilling and unique insights you could only get from someone who lived through those times and loved them, for better or worse.

But even when the narrative is almost consumed by everything around it, endlessly quotable dialogue (“All mothers are bitches!”) and unforgettable earworms ensure “Queens of Drama” is already a cult classic in the making, one that feels deeply personal to Langlois in ways that are intrinsically queer, from the central romance to its unabashed love of pop and punk in equal measure.

This is the kind of formative underground movie you could pledge your allegiance to for life, especially if you’re coming across it at a certain age for the very first time. And even if it doesn’t speak to you at quite that level, “Queens of Drama” still cements Langlois as one to watch, with the kind of obsessive love that the queer community would usually reserve for their favorite one-hit wonder who hit #17 on the charts twenty years prior. Except, it’s clear that Langlois has plenty more stories to tell than just this one.

Grade: B+

“Queens of Drama” premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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