24 April 2010

Review: "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"

It had been so long since I had seen The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that I had forgotten so much of what makes the film so special. The 1994 Australian film stars three of the most masculine actors: Hugo Weaving (Matrix, V for Vendetta), Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential, Memento) and Terence Stamp (The Limey, television's Smallville). These three men play a pair of drag queens and a transsexual (Stamp) who travel across the Australian Outback to perform as female impersonators. The film, while touching and heartfelt, is brutally funny. There are inevitable comparisons to the 1995 American film To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar. Both films are about three women traveling across the country in a untrustworthy vehicle that breaks down and allows the characters to self reflect. To Wong Foo, while also quite funny, is a toned down version that lacks the in-your-face sexuality of Priscilla. The film works so brilliantly because the male leads create characters that are so real and genuine that it is natural to sympathize with their cause. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, while wickedly funny and superbly acted, features a phenomenal soundtrack and outstanding cinematography that make the film an absolute adventure.

Hugo Weaving plays Anthony "Tick" Belrose (or Mitzi Del Bra), a drag queen from Sydney who has accepted an offer to perform at a hotel resort in Alice Springs, a remote town in the middle of Australia. He convinces two fellow performers, Bernadette Bassenger (Stamp), a recently bereaved transsexual, and Adam Whitely/Felicia Jollygoodfellow, a flamboyant drag queen, to make the trip with him. They travel in a large tour bus that Adam christens Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. While on the long trip they encounter a group of less than accepting locals and a group of friendly Australian Aboriginals. The bus breaks down in the middle of the desert and they are saved by a middle-aged mechanic, Bob (Bill Hunter), who ends up going the ladies on their trip. The wildly energetic group continue to travel across the country in Priscilla singing and dancing. Before reaching their final destination the reasons for Anthony's trip to Alice Springs shock to his friends and the three ladies are able to discover more about themselves.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was written by Stephan Elliott, who also directed the film. It features many unforgettable lines that make Priscilla one of the hidden gems of the 1990s. My favourite line: "Why don't you just light your tampon, and blow your box apart? Because it's the only bang you're ever gonna get, sweetheart!" The film won an Academy Award in 1996 for Best Costume Design (the costumers were incredible!) and along with its camp style and incredible soundtrack the film has been adapted for the stage. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - The Musical premiered in Sydney in 2006 and will be coming to Toronto in October 2010. There are so many outrageous moments in the film that it is too hard to pick a favourite scene. The three lead actors are so committed to their roles that we are able to forget that they are men and not real drag queens. Unlike To Wong Foo, the characters do not live and breath in character which makes it easier to relate to the characters. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert should be seen because it is comic genius, but it will be remember for its performances and its message of acceptance.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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