To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar is a 1995 American comedy film, starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo as three New York drag queens who embark on a road trip. The film's title refers to a totemic autographed photo of Julie Newmar that the trio carries with them on their journey. She additionally appears in the film as herself.
After tying for the win in New York City's "Drag Queen of the Year" contest, Noxeema Jackson and Vida Boheme win a trip to Hollywood to take part in the even bigger "Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant". Before they depart, Vida persuades Noxeema to take along the inexperienced "drag princess" Chi-Chi Rodriguez as their protégé (they initially refer to him simply as a "boy in a dress" rather than as a full-fledged drag queen). To do this, they cash in their plane tickets to a friend, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt (Robin Williams in a cameo role), and use the money to buy a yellow convertible 1967 Cadillac DeVille. They set off for Los Angeles in it, carrying with them an iconic autographed photo of Julie Newmar (signed "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar") that Vida took from a restaurant wall.
While on the road, they are pulled over by Sheriff Dollard, who hurls racial slurs, then forces Vida out of the car and tries to rape her. He discovers she is not a woman, she strikes him, and he is knocked unconscious. They assume he is dead and drive off, leaving him behind. At a rest stop, they recover from the incident but their car breaks down. Bobby Ray, a young man from the nearby small town of Snydersville, happens to pass by and gives them a ride, where they take refuge in a bed and breakfast inn owned by Carol Ann and her abusive car repairman husband, Virgil.
They are stranded in the town for the weekend waiting for the replacement part for their car. Chi-Chi is harassed by a group of roughnecks but is saved by Bobby Ray. While volunteering to help with the town's Strawberry Social, they decide the town's women need a day with them getting their hair done, picking out new outfits, and talking in a café. While searching for the new outfits, they are ecstatic to find vintage fashions from the 1960s in the town's clothing store and give the female residents (and themselves) a makeover.
Following their makeover, they are abused by the same roughnecks that attempted to harass Chi-Chi. Fed up, Noxeema handles the situation in a typically New York City manner and teaches their ringleader a lesson in manners. Vida, Noxeema, and Chi-Chi do what they can to be positive, and they set out to improve the lives of the townspeople, including offering assistance in organizing the Strawberry Social.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Dollard is ridiculed by his colleagues, who believe he was beaten up by a girl. He goes in search of the drag queens.
Vida, in the meantime, becomes acutely aware of Carol Ann's abuse at the hands of Virgil, and shortly thereafter, they overhear him giving her another beating. Vida decides to intervene and beats him up before throwing him out of the house.
Carol Ann is able to repair their car, but they remain for the Strawberry Social. Carol Ann reveals to Vida that she knew she was a drag queen all along due to her Adam's apple.
Not too far away, Virgil runs into Sheriff Dollard at a bar, and they realize that the newcomers are the same people Dollard has been searching for. They head back to Snydersville, and Dollard demands that the townspeople turn them over. The other townspeople, who now realize that their new friends are not women, begin to protect them. One by one, they confront Dollard, each one claiming to be a drag queen (in similar fashion to Spartacus). He is humiliated and flees. The Strawberry Social commences with everyone dressed in vibrant red outfits for it. The townspeople then say goodbye to their new friends as Noxeema, Vida, and Chi-Chi prepare to leave. In honor of their friendship, Vida gives Carol Ann the autographed photo of Julie Newmar that has accompanied them on their trip.
They eventually make it to Los Angeles where Chi-Chi, after having received many tips from Vida and Noxeema during their ordeal, wins the title of Drag Queen of the Year. The crown is presented by Julie Newmar herself.
- Wesley Snipes as Noxeema Jackson
- Patrick Swayze as Vida Boheme
- John Leguizamo as Chi-Chi Rodriguez
- Stockard Channing as Carol Ann
- Blythe Danner as Beatrice
- Arliss Howard as Virgil
- Jason London as Bobby Ray
- Chris Penn as Sheriff Dollard
- Melinda Dillon as Merna
- Marceline Hugot as Katina
- Mike Hodge as Jimmy Joe
- Jamie Harrold as Billy Budd
- Beth Grant as Loretta
- Alice Drummond as Clara
- Michael Vartan as Tommy
- Jennifer Milmore as Bobbie Lee
- Julie Newmar as Herself
- Naomi Campbell as Girl at China Bowl
- Joseph Arias as Joey Arias
- Lady Catiria as Herself
- Alexander Heimberg as Miss Understood
- Candis Cayne as Herself (credited as Brendan McDanniel)
- Clinton Leupp as Miss Coco Peru
- Steven Polito as Hedda Lettuce
- Jon Ingle as The Lady Bunny
- Quentin Crisp as NY pageant judge
- José Sarria as NY pageant judge
- RuPaul as Rachel Tensions
- Robin Williams as John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
When it came to casting the leading men, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo both immediately said yes. Many actors were considered for the role of Vida Boheme, including Robert Downey Jr., William Baldwin, Gary Oldman, Matthew Broderick, James Spader, John Cusack, Mel Gibson, Robert Sean Leonard, Willem Dafoe, John Turturro, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, and Robin Williams (who had a brief cameo in the finished film). Patrick Swayze was one of the last actors to audition for Vida. Director Beeban Kidron has said that it was ultimately Swayze's walk that sealed the deal, saying "Swayze had his own makeup people transform him into a woman, and he insisted that he and Beeban take a walk around the city to prove he could pass as a woman," and "With his beauty and dancer's grace, he did just that. He had the job."
In interviews and recollections with actors and crew after the film, the production of To Wong Foo has been described as "a tough shoot." One reason being the discomfort the male leads experienced with their extensive makeup and costumes. Remote location and a four-and-a-half month long shoot also played a role in the friction that occurred among the cast and crew.
The opening and closing scenes were filmed in New York City featuring dozens of its local drag performers and underground stars in small roles or as featured extras. Included in the mix were RuPaul, Joey Arias, Lady Bunny, Miss Understood, Candis Cayne, Flotilla DeBarge, Miss Coco Peru, and Quentin Crisp. The three lead actors had previously spent some time in the local drag scene while researching their roles. The ending scene, the anticipated Miss Drag Queen USA contest, was filmed at The John S. Phipps Estate in Old Westbury, New York, now colloquially known as Old Westbury Gardens. Much of the rest of the film was shot on location in Montclair, New Jersey;, Jersey City, New Jersey (site of the Canton Restaurant in which the opening restaurant scenes were shot), Loma, Nebraska; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Omaha, Nebraska. Though greatly faded, a "Welcome to Snydersville" outdoor mural remains in Loma.
Professional golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez sued the production company and distributor over the use of his name in the film, eventually settling with undisclosed terms.
The film is similar to the earlier Australian comedy-drama The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which stars Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp, and Guy Pearce in the roles of the three drag queens who travel cross-country in a vehicle that breaks down, stranding them in a small backwater town where they manage to win the locals over.
The film was released on VHS after its theatrical release and on DVD on January 7, 2003, with several deleted scenes. It was released on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory on May 28, 2019.
With a lifetime box-office gross revenue of US$47.8 million worldwide, the film was number one at the box office in the United States for its first two weeks in the theater.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 39% based on 38 reviews. The site's consensus states: "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar seeks to celebrate individuality, but is too timid and predictable to achieve its admittedly noble aims." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60% based on reviews from 24 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B+" on scale of A to F.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote "What is amazing is how the movie manages to be funny and amusing while tippy-toeing around (a) sex, (b) controversy and (c) any originality in the plot." Emanuel Levy of Variety wrote: "A politically correct comedy about drag queens? This is the American response to the superior Aussie flick Adventures of Priscilla. Macho Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo can't lift it above the routine."
Swayze and Leguizamo were nominated at the 1996 Golden Globe Awards, for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.
In 2017, it was announced that Douglas Carter Beane and his husband Lewis Flynn were working on a musical adaptation for Broadway. In an interview, Beane stated that he had originally written To Wong Foo for the stage, and had retained stage rights when the screenplay was produced.