About halfway through Moving Parts, the documentary about her life that premiered at Tribeca on Thursday, Trixie Mattel looks right at the camera from under her paint-relocated eyelids and says, “The more you get to fabricate the life you live, the happier you are.” That’s an apt mantra for the 29-year-old country musician/comedian/drag megastar of the small (and now silver) screen: Trixie has willfully fashioned her stardom into existence, has manufactured an entire pink-plastic empire for herself. She’s harnessed what she calls “delusional confidence,” to propel her career out from the gay bars of Milwaukee and into America’s hearts.
Everything about Trixie has become wildly recognizable, at least since her Drag Race All Stars win in 2018. Drag fans know her for her Barbie doll-meets-Dolly Parton aesthetic; her incisive, speed-of-light wit; and her makeup, which somehow reorganizes her facial features (the contour is a brand unto itself). So it’s not surprising that Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts premiered for a full, buzzy room in Spring Studios on Thursday evening. Director Nick Zeig-Owens was there. So was Trixie, who first introduced the movie with a joke: “It’s a biopsy of me as an artist,” she said, “and an autopsy of the art of drag as a whole.”
The documentary was filmed over the course of the year Trixie won All Stars, and aims to provide a close look at “the other 23 hours” in a day in the life of a famous drag queen. A warning, for those not already familiar with Trixie or the world she inhabits: Moving Parts is a thicket of specifics. We watch Trixie paying bills, lacing up corsets, calling her mom from the road. We go inside the recording studio with her. We see her fracturing and reconciling with her business partner and closest Drag Race friend, Katya Zamolodchikova, whose drug relapse last year sent the two into a very public tailspin. This is a comprehensive study, one that will be appreciated, mostly, by devoted fans.
When the screening ended in Tribeca, Trixie rematerialized, gorgeous and monumental in gold. She played her songs, did raunchy stand-up, and bantered with the audience. (“Do I look like an old clock?” she asked a guy in the front row, who had tried to sneak a photo of her trademark makeup from below. “Tick, tock, bitch!”) She’s a captivatingly present performer, and while she was on stage, I found myself recalling something she says in the film: if a drag queen believes she’s the most engrossing, beautiful being in the world, her audiences will, too. Trusting in something—even, or especially, if you’ve dreamed it up—is enough to make it true.
Trixie Mattel was born Brian Firkus in rural Wisconsin, into a poor household in which he was abused for being feminine (“Trixie” was once an alcoholic stepfather’s taunt). At around the age of 14, Brian was taken away to be raised by his grandparents, one of whom was a country musician who inspired him to play guitar. Which was great, because he always wanted to be famous. He always loved the unmoving, plasticky ringlets on his Mattel Happy Meal toys, and once joked that if he had only been allowed a Barbie Styling Head as a child, he “could have been a real estate agent.” In Moving Parts, we get an incomplete, but nonetheless cogent, sense of the young person behind the queen; that kid had enormous ambition to flee given circumstances, and a pretty peerless vision for making it all the way to the top. He assembled Trixie with intention, (moving) part by (moving) part, as a ticket elsewhere.
So the story behind the documentary, Trixie’s story, is one of self-construction, fabricating circumstances, and imagining new realities into existence. Onscreen she called the confidence that created Trixie the confidence of the deluded, but I’m inclined to think of it more like the confidence of an engineer: she did, after all, ditch a past and build a dream house. She handed Malibu Barbie an autoharp. Only a real person—with real joys and sorrows and enthusiasms—could have manufactured such an artificial creature.
The day after the premiere of Moving Parts was a torrentially rainy Friday in New York. I took the subway to an office building in lower Manhattan, jotting down notes for this piece and getting abysmally soaked on my way. In the bizarrest twist of fate ever, when I stepped, dripping, through the glass revolving doors, Trixie Mattel was standing there. In the grayscale lobby, in full drag, as if she had been conjured from the glitteriest recesses of my brain and plopped into the ordinary bustle. She was, in that moment and in her way, pretty muted and mundane: scrolling on her phone and avoiding the spring weather. All blonde curls and metallic fushia, but off-the-clock, a collision of reality and reverie. A confectionary daydream, just waiting for an Uber.