Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The (1994)


That scarf scene, and it's matching twin scene are a lovely accoutrement indeed.
That scarf scene, and it's matching twin scene are a lovely accoutrement indeed.

Genre: Comedy Drama Sports & Music (Australia, UK)

Starring: Hugo Weaving (The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings), Guy Pearce (Memento The Hurt Locker), Terence Stamp (Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom MenaceValkyrie)

Directed By: Stephan Elliott (Easy Virtue (2008)Eye of the Beholder)

Overview: When a drag performer is offered a gig at a remote desert casino, he brings along two friends to embark on the cross country journey.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert opens in the tamest drag show of all those we’re to see throughout the film, and for as accepting as I am of queens and queers, gaudy cinematic displays often cause me to fear that such devices serve more as masks covering up a lack of more vital things needed to make a film good to a snob like me: rich characters, compelling stories and human drama. Obviously that opening scene is meant to shock us, with harsh lighting on a profile-heavy close-up of an overly made-up, but still pockmarked and masculine-featured singer. I feared for the worst.

Anthony 'Tick' Belrose (Hugo Weaving) by day, Mitzi Del Bra by night, is an Australian who makes a living by performing drag acts, singing cabaret in outrageous outfits and lip-synching kitschy songs. When offered a gig from an old friend, he asks his buddy, the in-mourning transsexual Bernadette Bassenger (Terence Stamp) to come with him on his 4-week run. The aging Bernadette has recently lost her 25 year-old lover to a tragic accident and tags along to help lessen the grief. Along for the ride is the young and flaming Adam Whitely, aka Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce). Adam takes it upon himself to buy a tour bus, name it Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and make an adventure out of it. The bus isn’t in great shape, and when they chose to take an off-road shortcut, the bus full of prissy queens breaks down in the desert, and the adventure begins.

That's them dressed down.
That's them dressed down.

At first glance, yes, absolutely, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is as over-the-top as its ostentatious title hints. The gags are forced, the characters topple the norm, and gay and draggy and pre-op as they may be, there’s much about them that falls flat. Guy Pearce’s Adam Whitely minces around dancing and prattling off one liners. Weaving’s Belrose humour is mostly physical, grotesqueries of his terrifying woman-face squorshed into exaggerated displays. Bernadette cracks out gags that are nigh-vaudevillian, almost as old as she is. In one scene, her scathing come-back is so funny that it alleviates the growing atmosphere of hate in a bar full of rednecks. The crowd in the bar laughs uproariously – though I felt like that crowd was laughing at me, because I wasn’t laughing. Frequently the timing is sitcom in the way it leaves pauses for laughter after a joke. The music is constantly queeny, the outfits epically fruity. It’s as though the theme of glorious flaming LOUD will never let up, leaving behind nothing but a purple-laced and gold-lamée-gilded, poorly-written, one-dimensional character study with a thin story.

But Priscilla, Queen of the Desert does have a trick or two up its sleeve. Its gorgeous cinematography and infectious colour palate bore into my brain. The colors are gay in the best sense of the word. The show costumes are flamboyant, freakish and funny. And while I watched, a plot also snuck its way in. Bernadette’s inner fears of growing ugly, Adam’s youth and naiveté pitted against small town hicks, the not-so-cut-and-dry lifestyle of Anthony Belrose – these are characters who are original individuals as opposed to the caricatures we’re introduced to. When the pile of queens aren’t showing off and squawking at each other, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is enjoyable, entertaining - deep even, and definitely dramatic. Despite all the problems I had with the forced facetious fairy façade, Priscilla eventually drops it’s pretentions and gets down to business, and whether it’s show business, character-building or impressive cinematic displays it’s a second half worth the wait.


Oh Well Mithter Anderthon, Humanity is like a viruthhhh! Ithn't that fabulouth?
"Oh! Mithter Anderthon, Humanity is like a viruthhhh! Ithn't that fabulouth?"

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 78% (Definitely Not Dry)

I think for the rest of my life I’ll see Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith in a completely different light. Watching him interrogate The Matrix’s Neo in full drag instead of a suit – well I suspect that’ll always be there in the corner of my mind.

Oh and Guy Pearce is the sexiest woman I've seen in a gay movie.

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Dude, how did you know that Netflix will deliver this one to me TOMORROW?  Uncanny!!!!

Good-o, Squish. I submitted and had posted a link to your review on the External reviews part of this film's entry on the IMDb.

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