Leave Laverne Cox Alone, The 'Rocky Horror' Reboot Was Totally Fine
"Don't dream it. Be it."
Look, I get it. We're all protective about our favorite media franchises and don't want to see our adolescent memories dug up from the nostalgia pet cemetery only to be exploited for cold hard advertising dollars. And there's no reason that the latest Rocky Horror reboot deserves a benefit of the doubt: why should we trust the people behind the minstrel show of Modern Family with a queer classic?
Here's the thing though: The Rocky Horror reboot was totally fine. Maybe even kind of good?
Let's get the complaints out of the way: the costuming was certainly uneven — extras and main players (Columbia especially) were sometimes clothed in store-bought faux-Burning Man attire. Despite a $20 million dollar budget the sets looked rather cheap (sometimes endearingly, sometimes confusingly; although I must admit I was immediately charmed by the obviously Styrofoam movie theater/castle in the opening song) and the big dance numbers looked rather constrained due to the rooms being literally too small. The audience-watching-a-movie framing device was just plain annoying. Some scenes and language were necessarily censored (are you even allowed to show a blowjob on basic cable?) and pronouns were changed to address Frank as a she and not a he. Arguments can be made that if you can't completely respect the original, why bother with a remake? Fair enough, but as far as remakes go, this version was about as faithful as possible within the constraints of family-friendly television — and the fact that we can watch a black trans woman sing about sex on national TV and call it family-friendly at all implies some kind of progress as a society, or something.
Speaking of that black trans woman, Laverne Cox was extraordinary. The mythos of Cox is well known at this point: she worked at the notorious Lucky Cheng's restaurant in New York as a drag queen before transitioning. Vamping and camping and spreading her legs is what Laverne had been trained for long before she was taken seriously as an actress. Her commitment to over-the-topness was so incredibly sincere, as evidenced by repeated interviews about her dedication to and admiration of the Frank-n-Furter character.
Every lip quiver, every tiny kick, every flourish of her gorgeous wrists was a calculated, practiced, and skilled move. Her Jamaican / Transylvanian interpretation of the role made legend by Tim Curry was a welcome update to a classic character. And whose jaw didn't drop at her penultimate look, draped in pink satin with hair laid like Venus emerging from the seas? I've seen over 100 midnight showings of Rocky Horror with Frank played by everyone from butch lesbians to teeny twinks — those worried about the political ramifications of having a trans woman play a transvestite clearly misunderstand the spirit of the original production to begin with.
Everyone else: they did fine! Over zealous overacting was abundant and clearly (and lovingly!) intentional —no one flubbed a song, taking notes from the inflections of the original filmic version and adding more 60s girl group doo-wop flare than perhaps needed. Props should be given to the casting directors not only for their landing of Laverne but for the diversity and talent of the cast throughout.
Most importantly though: everyone seemed like they were having fun! Rocky Horror isn't exactly intellectual art and everyone from actors to editors to sound designers seemed to recognize and embrace the pure stupidity of the endeavor. The makers of this movie were so acutely aware of the original that even the tiniest details from the Richard O'Brien version were included: the lone floating shoe in the pool and the first person camera on Eddie's motorcycle are just two examples of the attention paid to even the silliest minutiae. Ridiculous gags like Rocky's snoring butt or Brad's hand-sniffing or cutaways to a displeased Criminologist were hilariously well-timed despite being goofy and juvenile.
Negative reviews about the Fox remake are pouring in from essentially every news outlet. I can't quite figure out why. Is it that precious cultural critics can't let go of the original? By now we are so deeply entrenched in reboot and sequel culture that we all recognize that continuations or reinventions of cult classics do absolutely nothing to tarnish the reputation and memories of their predecessors. So what is going on here? Is media culture still too transphobic to accept this version? Or is it something else entirely?
At the very least, we can all agree that nothing will ever hold a candle to the original Rocky Horror film, but as far as reboots go we could have done much worse. I mean, remember that Glee atrocity?