[Film Review] The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

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Title: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Year: 1994
Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Music
Director/Writer: Stephan Elliott
Music: Guy Gross
Cinematography: Brain J. Breheny
Cast:
Terence Stamp
Hugo Weaving
Guy Pearce
Bill Hunter
Sarah Chadwick
Mark Holmes
Julia Cortez
Alan Dargin
Rating: 8.0/10

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert 1994.jpg

Revisiting this 90s flamboyant drag cult made from Down Under, a trio of drag performers, two drag queens, Mitzi (Weaving) and Felicia (Pearce) and a trans-woman Bernadette (Stamp), embarks on a road trip on their titularly coined bus, from Sydney to the outback to perform their routines, en route, they meet multifarious people (whose reaction ranging from beneficent, gobsmacked, impassive, miffed to violent, and the juxtaposition between the aborigine and the white hicks is piercingly sharp) and each has his/her own generational revelation to cope with by the time their four-week-stint ends.

Felicia, a sassy whippersnapper played by a sinewy Guy Pearce in his breaking-out cinema role, who constantly squabbles with Bernadette and has to learn his lesson in a hard way after he has a narrow escape from hate-crime induced mutilation, and Pearce is barnstorming to a fault, as if he is too self-aware of his orthodox masculine appearance, which he compensates with a patina of overblown effeminate affectation and posturing that runs to distracting, as we know that queer and masculine don’t necessarily exclude each other, conceivably, he is the weakest link in the fold.

Hugo Weaving’s Mitzi, acting more natural in his persona’s stage/private distinction, carries a more weighty responsibility when we realize he is married to a woman and they have an eight-year-old son Benji (Holmes), the burden of guilt and shame is what weighs down on every nonconformist being’s soul, his tentative attempt to reconnect with Benj engages with a tender vulnerability that precariously avoids becoming saccharine, which says a lot about the performer’s emotive strength.

Nevertheless, the best performance unequivocally comes from Terence Stamp, whose Bernadette is long in the tooth, but she proves that wisdom, dignity and snide quips are amassed through years of hardened self-preservation against side-eyes and brandishing fists, Stamp embodies her with superlative poise larded with subtle cynicism and utter phlegm, which makes Bernadette’s romantic kindling with a rough diamond Bob (Hunter) more like an unexpected boon than a hackneyed plot maneuver.

The show must go on, and for a drag troupe of three, lip-syncing of queer-friendly iconic hits (Charlene’s I’VE NEVER BEEN ME is an infectious show opener, which would be dusted off in Lynne Ramsay’s YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE 2017, and rendered an idiosyncratically poignant effect) is just a one trick pony doesn’t offer much variations, so their pageantry lives and dies with its gaudy, zany, eye-popping, varicolored, Oscar-winning apparel (courtesy of Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel), particularly when being put into use against the vast topography in the middle of nowhere, and the crowning moment on the top of King’s canyon, that majesty feeling of being unique in a cosmic world is so refreshing and life-affirming.

Lastly, one cannot stress this enough, it is an unqualified relief that director/writer Stephan Elliott sticks to his guns with a less dramatic leitmotif to anchor his tragedy-prone subject matter in the most gracious way one can probably conceive, PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT is truly, a hoot and a half.

companion pieces: Beeban Kidron’s TO WONG FOO THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR (1995, 6.0/10); John Cameron Mitchell’s HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2001, 7.1/10).

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2 thoughts on “[Film Review] The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

  1. Pingback: [Film Review] To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995) – Cinema Omnivore

  2. Pingback: [Film Review] Strictly Ballroom (1992) – Cinema Omnivore

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