Sunday, September 27, 2015

#1,868. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) - Spotlight on Australia

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 its most basic level, 1994's The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a movie about drag queens. Its three main characters are entertainers who dress up as women and lip-sync to songs such as "I Love the Nightlife" and "Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man". Their 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, Queen of the Desert 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.

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. She’s in the market for a new stage show, so along with his two friends, fellow drag queens Adam / Felicia (Guy Pearce) and Bernadette (Terence Stamp), Tick boards a bus - nicknamed "Priscilla" - and sets off  on what proves to be an eventful journey through the Australian outback.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert features a number of entertaining scenes. So many, in fact, that I had a hard time keeping up with them all. Some of its best moments are when the three leads don their dresses and take the stage; 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, there's a scene in which Tick and his buddies stroll into a bar filled with ruffians, only to find the most intimidating patron is a portly, middle-aged woman (June Marie Bennett)! 

While most of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is lighthearted in nature, there are times where things get a bit more serious. After spending the night in a small town, the three discover a homophobic threat has been spray-painted on the side of their bus. Yet even somber scenes such as these have their moments of frivolity (a flashback sequence, in which Adam recalls an encounter with a pedophile uncle, actually ends on a humorous 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 as their elaborate costumes. Terence Stamp delivers an understated performance as Bernadette, a transsexual whose best years are behind her, while Guy Pearce is perfectly over-the-top in his portrayal of Adam, an effeminate troublemaker who refuses to take life seriously. 

Naturally, these two occasionally clash, which is where Hugo Weaving’s Mitzi comes into the picture. Often forced into the role of peacemaker, Mitzi is, at times, as boisterous as Adam (especially when on-stage), yet also as level-headed as Bernadette. All three actors deliver remarkable performances, 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 and falls in love with Bernadette.

Normally, I don't 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!


weaselweaver said...

what i remember most are the costumes, which won the designer an academy award. when she accepted her oscar, she wore a dress made out of gold american express cards, which i thought was brilliant.

Unknown said...

Loved this movie. What a fabulous cast. I was in Australia and have to say Drag Queens in Sydney were the best and most talented I've ever seen.

DVD Infatuation said...

Thanks to both of you for the great comments!

Mikey: Yes, the costumes are remarkable. That shot on top of the bus of the scarves flowing in the wind is reason enough to see this movie. And that's a great story about the costume designer... thanks for sharing it!

Carol: Agreed! The cast was superb (and I liked your comment about Aussie drag queens. Wish they'd make a few more movies about them!)

James Robert Smith said...

It's hard to add to what so many have written about this film. All I can say is that it is surprisingly good.