Los Angeles Times - Kenneth Turan
Kenneth Turan begins his review by commenting on the hidden nature of the subculture and how this inaccessible society is so different from the mainstream one that we know. But in the end, this culture, one so far from mainstream society, is still yearning to conform to the very culture norms that forced them to be rejected from society in the beginning.
Following this, Turan begins to explore the extravagant nature of the cultural, as well as the structure of the balls that they hope will produce the fame they all crave. These balls are as close to fame and fortune as many of the performers will ever get. This is the only chance for the outcasts thrown into the ball world will get to be a somebody, and that’s what motivates the ball culture overall. This fame is won through a variety of categories that the contestants can perform in and be champions of. Although, Turan explains that these aren’t the same kinds of categories that one would expect. They range from Femme Queens to Wall Street to street smugglers. This, Turan says, is what shows the audiences one of the many paradoxes explored in the film. The ball participants are competing to belong to a conventional society that has already scorned them and pushed them away.
Finally, Turan points to the intimacy and emotion that Jeannie Livingston is able to create within the film through interviews of the participants in their more reflective moments. It’s these scenes that linger in the minds of the audience even after the film is over. It’s these interviews, more importantly the ones with ball contestants that have seen less fame, that leave the strongest impression on the viewer.