It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There's a 1950s genre of films that asked to be decoded through a gay lens. They undermined the conventional view of straight, middle-class American life, inviting the irony of outsiders (homosexual or not). Their glamorous, overwrought heroines were role models for the emerging camp sensibility. Douglas Sirk's melodramas (among them "Imitation of Life," "Written on the Wind" and "All That Heaven Allows") are at the head of this category, and Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven" (2002) was a film that moved Sirk's buried themes into the foreground. What made Sirk a great director is that his stories were sappy in a way that was subversive to the restrictive values of the time.
The whole point, though, was that his movies never copped to what they were doing. They didn't wink or nudge or engage in Wildean double entendres (well, maybe sometimes, as when Rock Hudson is told it's time to get married and says, "I have trouble enough just finding oil"). Sirk was as sincere about his surface story as he was about his subtext, and that's why his movies still function as real melodrama and not as camp. The strength of "Far From Heaven" is its complete earnestness; it isn't a 2002 satire of Sirk, but wants to be the 1957 movie he couldn't make. We can smile at the story's hysteria about homosexual and interracial romance, but those were not laughing matters in the 1950s, and the movie honors that.
The problem with "Die, Mommie, Die," a drag send-up of the genre, is that it spoils the fun by making it obvious. While it is true that late in their careers Joan Crawford or Bette Davis sometimes seemed like drag queens, they were not, and would have been offended by the suggestion. The lead in "Die, Mommie, Die" is Charles Busch, a professional drag queen, and the whole point of the movie is precisely that he is a drag queen.
There is a crucial difference between a drag queen and a female impersonator. Impersonators want to be "read" as women, and may sincerely think of themselves as women. That would seem to be the case with Jaye Davidson's character in "The Crying Game." The drag queen, on the other hand, wants you to know he is a man. Charles Busch is in that category; he looks like a man in drag, and that's the point. The performance consists of a send-up by a gay man of a straight woman, and the story is a lampoon of cherished heterosexual conventions.