There’s a lot going on in Winters, Texas. In this Southern-fried hamlet based on writer/director Del Shores’ own hometown, LaVonda (Ann Walker) and her friend, Noleta (Caroline Rhea), are looking for love in all the wrong places. Brother Boy (American Horror Story’s Leslie Jordan) is bringing his drag act to the big city with the help of a bisexual serial killer. And Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia)’s gay son is headed back to town, while the new fire-and-brimstone preacher is readying an anti-equality rally. Oh, and it all takes place over a dizzy few days leading up to the titular surprise wedding.
A sequel to Shores’ play-turned-film-turned-TV series Sordid Lives, A Very Sordid Wedding arrives 21 years after the original, which debuted in Los Angeles in 1996 and ran for 13 sold-out months. It received 13 Critic's Choice honors and 14 Drama-Logue Theatre Awards.
Following up on that success, three years later, Shores wrote and directed the film adaption of Sordid Lives, which starred Beau Bridges, Delta Burke, Olivia Newton-John, Bonnie Bedelia, Leslie Jordan, and Beth Grant, along with most of the cast from the play. Taking in nearly $2 million in its eight-theatre limited release, the movie became a cult phenomenon and won six Best Feature and 13 Audience Awards at various film festivals. Then, in 2008, Sordid Lives: The Series, a 12-episode TV series prequel to the Sordid Lives film, premiered on MTV’s LOGO network.
Although fans have been clamoring for a Sordid sequel for years, Shores never felt the time was quite right — until the political climate gave him a burst of inspiration.
“After the [2008 Logo series of Sordid], I said I was done with it, but the fans kept dogging me,” says Shores. “With the backdrop of so much happening in the LGBTQ community, it felt like a hot topic to me. I wrote a draft and it took us a lot longer to raise the money than I thought, but miraculously, the Supreme Court decision [in favor of marriage equality] came in, and it unlocked the whole script. What happens when equality comes storming into Winters, Texas?”
Shot mostly in Winnipeg, Canada (aside from a few crucial scenes at the Oak Lawn drag bar the Rose Room and the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams store in Knox-Henderson), Wedding brings most of the ensemble cast back for their original roles, with some new faces peppered in. The film’s producer Emerson Collins, a longtime collaborator with Shores, did double duty in the role of Billy Joe, the serial killer with a heart of gold. Collins managed to pull off the hat trick of playing one of the more layered characters while making sure the film went off without a hitch, including a superstar cameo from Whoopi Goldberg, who performs the movie’s wedding ceremony.
“She loved the series and wanted to be in the movie, but as the pessimistic producer, I told Del to write one scene that can be done in one day,” recalls Collins. “Her people said she could do it this one Friday evening when she was off from The View, so I built the entire shoot schedule of 24 actors around the idea that Whoopi would be in the film. She doesn’t fly, so she got on her bus Thursday night and pulled into our base camp at 4 pm Friday afternoon. She was brilliant, and by 9:30 pm she was back on the bus and on the way out!”
The support of stars like Goldberg has helped Sordid get more exposure, the ultimate goal of its director and producer. With strong box office performances in supportive communities like Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs, and sellout festival screenings, like the April 21 opening of the 47th annual USA Film Festival at Dallas' Texas Theatre, the film’s built-in audience is turning up in droves. But both Shores and Collins want those who might not normally embrace the story to connect with Wedding’s larger message. According to the duo, there’s plenty of people in the buckle of the Bible Belt who could use a little of the movie’s saucy sermonizing.
“I loved watching it with the audience in Palm Springs because there were eruptions, but we’re going into Texas right now,” says Shores. “ I have family members who haven’t seen my work for a long time, and I reached out and said, ‘I want you to see this movie,’ and every one of them agreed, so I’m hopeful.”
“I’m more excited about Dallas personally than Palm Springs, because that’s where my family is,” agrees Collins. "[The location] the Rose Room was my first safe place to be myself coming out of my conservative religious upbringing. Wedding is our way to contribute to the conversation, and to bring it home is super exciting.”
A Very Sordid Wedding screens Sunday, April 23, at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm, and Tuesday, April 25, at 7 pm and 9:20 pm at the Texas Theatre with Del Shores and Emerson Collins in attendance. Tickets are available here.