Funky Tut – A Review of ‘Queen Tut’

"Queen Tut." Photo courtesy of Reel Q.

After the death of his mother, Nabil (Ryan Ali) returns to Toronto to find freedom with his adopted drag momma, Malibu (Alexandra Billings, “Transparent,” “The Conners”) in “Queen Tut,” which premieres in Pittsburgh on Sunday, October 15 at 11:00 AM at the Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville as part of the Reel Q Film Festival.

The shy young man must navigate between his two lives: one inside the Church of the Redeemer, the strict Coptic Orthodox Christian church, and the other, inside the dying drag bar, Mandy’s. Nabil longs to complete a red sequined dress he and his mother sketched in a scrapbook years ago.

One day, outside his father’s office, Nabil meets Malibu as she’s passing out flyers to save her beloved bar that’s being sold to make way for high-rise condos (sound familiar?). An unlikely friendship between the reserved Egyptian boy and the out-proud-and-loud drag mother blossoms. Malibu teaches Nabil how to create his dream dress and introduces him to the colorful locals at the bar. Nabil commits a sin of omission when he fails to tell the drag queens, and one drag king, Taz (Kiriana Stanton, “The Expanse”), that his father’s architecture firm is the one gentrifying the neighborhood and booting them from their historic LGBTQ+ bar. The central tension keeps ramping up like a roller coaster ticking to the top.

Nabil finds himself resisting an attraction to Morcos (Mostafa Shaker), a boy he discovers in church – of all places. At a church mixer, Morcos comes on strong and the not-yet-out Nabil wigs out.

Meanwhile, Malibu wants to put on one last fabulous drag show to save the bar and honor Mandy’s memory.

P.S. Mandy’s is named after Malibu’s deceased partner, one who “died with her makeup on and looking fabulous,” and it’s another reason why Malibu is so reluctant to give up her sanctuary.

Malibu tries to garner landmark status for Mandy’s, but nothing works, and the bar reaches its final days.  During an impassioned speech, Malibu rallies the troops while clips of LGBTQ activism fill the screen. It’s a powerful but over-the-top moment that might cause a few tears.

“Queen Tut” is about a revolution, but, at its heart, it’s about a boy who must conquer his fears and live his truth.

Screenwriters Bryan Mark, Kaveh Mohebbi, and Abdul Malik tell, ironically, a very straightforward tale about a boy pursuing his dreams of becoming a drag queen. Oddly, the movie doesn’t over-glamorize anything. “Queen Tut” is billed as a dramedy, but it never gets too tragic, nor does it ever get riotously funny. It rides right down the middle of the road, but the actors transcend the work. Through gestalt, the film becomes greater than the story the director, Egyptian-Canadian filmmaker Reem Morsi, is telling.

It’s easy to get drawn into Nabil’s tale. Ali is charismatic and charming while remaining shy and quiet. It’s a heck of a balancing act.

Billings has some powerful gravitas. The actor commands every scene she’s in. Malibu is mourning the loss of her partner, and now her bar, she still manages to find humor in her situation, and Billings has the ability to deliver witty bon mots while simultaneously grieving.

Stanton’s drag king is another highlight in a superb cast. “Queen Tut” isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have many flaws. It is a simple story told extremely well.

After the story ends, there is a lovely musical number that is uplifting and inspiring, a joyous final moment.

“Queen Tut” premieres in Pittsburgh on October 15th at 11:00 AM at the Row House Cinema, 4115 Butler Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201-3172. For more information on the movie or any movie in the Reel Q Film Festival, click below.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)