Possibly the gaudiest film to come out of 1994, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a far cry from the action blockbusters the 90s are famed for. It follows two drag queens (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) and a transgender woman (Terence Stamp) on their adventure across Australia in a “lavender” bus, aptly named ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’.
Weaving, Pearce and Stamp are the dream team. Their energy bounces off each other like kangaroos in the outback, making their friendship the standout in this movie. The dirty, gutter-scraped humour ricochets around the scenes, bringing a smile to the most sullen of faces. Their chemistry, and the stellar writing and directing by Stephan Elliot, ties the whole film together, making it flow like a dream.
Drag queens are known for being over-the-top, colourful and loud; something that some people find annoying and unappealing. However, Priscilla uses the stereotypes to create something with depth. By bringing social issues and the humour of modern drag together, the story doesn’t become too cloying: so sickly sweet and over the top, it would suffocate even the most seasoned of drag fans. Instead it becomes a multi-faceted piece of art, highlighting the good and bad of drag.
Hugo Weaving is brilliant at portraying the conflicted and confused Tick, but the real stars of the show are Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp. Pearce plays ludicrously camp Adam, a drag queen with a huge ego and an even bigger love for Abba. Although his character is very intense and very, very loud, he manages to hold on to some naivety that, ultimately, makes you want to like him. Stamp, however, plays feisty Bernadette, a transgender woman who has come on the road trip to take her mind off of the death of her husband. A heartfelt and touching portrayal, but at the same time, biting and sassy, Bernadette is the leader of the pack, and of the dialogue.
As good as this film is, it definitely isn’t perfect. Even though the lead cast is spectacular, the supporting roles fall short. Bill Hunter plays Bob Spart, a mechanic with a mail-order-bride. Despite having good intentions and a fairly well written role, his acting is lacklustre, cringe worthy and, at best, mediocre. Luckily, this doesn’t detract from the movie as a whole, but it is noticeable up against such strong leading talent.
Even though the storyline is dramatic, the acting is over the top and the costumes are, frankly, insane, that is what makes it a film about the world of drag. Drag is a tumultuous vocation, but it’s rewarding and beautiful. Even though the trio experience hardships along the way, they still make it to their final destination in one piece. Drag is about having fun, and that is what this film is about too.
No film is perfect. Some films, however, thrive in their imperfections, their uniqueness and originality. This is one of those films. After all, how many films have a man in full drag, sat in a giant silver shoe, singing opera on top of an offensively purple bus? Not many at all.
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