Directed By: Stephan Elliott
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp
Tag line: "She's back... Looking as gorgeous and outrageous as ever in a brand new frock"
Trivia: According to director Stephan Elliott, he took the three leads out in drag prior to the beginning of filming. None of them were recognized
On the surface, 1994's The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert looks like a movie about drag queens. Its three main characters are entertainers who dress as women and lip-sync to songs like "I Love the Nightlife" and "Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man"; the outfits are flamboyant (The movie won a well-deserved Academy Award for its Costume Design); and the stage performances are flashy and extravagant. But to reduce The Adventures of Priscilla to a glorified drag act would be short-changing it. This is a lively, hilarious motion picture with well-developed characters and some extremely clever sequences, and, in all likelihood, these are the aspects you’ll remember when you think back on this movie.
Tick (Hugo Weaving), a drag performer whose stage name is Mitzi, receives a call from his estranged wife, who operates a hotel / casino in the small desert town of Alice Springs. As it turns out, she’s in the market for a new stage show, so Tick agrees to help her out and, along with his two friends, fellow drag queen Adam / Felicia (Guy Pearce) and transsexual Bernadette (Terence Stamp), hops aboard a bus that Adam’s mother bought and sets off on what proves to be an eventful journey through the Australian outback.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert boasts a good number of entertaining scenes. So many, in fact, that I had a hard time keeping up with them all. Some of the film’s best moments occur when the three leads don their dresses and start up the music; along with their rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive", which they perform for a group of aborigines in the middle of the Outback, is a scene where they walk into what appears to be a bar filled with ruffians, only to find the most intimidating person there is a portly, middle-aged woman (June Marie Bennett). While most of the movie is lighthearted in nature, there are times where things get a bit more serious (after spending the night in a small town, the three awaken to find a homophobic threat spray-painted on the side of the bus), but even these solemn scenes have their moments of frivolity (a flashback sequence, in which Adam recalls an encounter with his pedophile uncle, starts out pretty damn creepy, yet ends on a very funny note).
While the adventures themselves are a blast to watch, the movie’s real strength lies in its characters, all of whom are as colorful and rich in detail as the film’s elaborate costumes. Terence Stamp delivers an understated performance as Bernadette, a transsexual whose best years are behind her, whereas Guy Pearce is as over-the-top as you can get in his portrayal of Adam, an effeminate troublemaker who refuses to take life seriously. Naturally, these very opposing personalities sometimes clash, which is where Hugo Weaving’s Mitzi comes in. Often forced into the role of peacemaker, Mitzi is, at times, as boisterous as Adam (especially when on-stage), yet also level-headed like Bernadette, not to mention a little nervous to be on his way to visit a wife he hasn’t seen in years. All three actors do a remarkable job, and never once allow their characters to devolve into caricatures. Also good in a supporting role is Bill Hunter (Newsfront) as Bob, a mechanic who, after being dumped by his stripper wife (Julia Cortez), hitches a ride on the bus, falling in love with Bernadette as they go.
I don’t usually condone sequels, but in the case of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, I’d love to see another movie featuring these characters. The 100+ minutes I spent in their company simply wasn’t enough.