Saturday, February 6, 2010

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

We all knew that Agent Smith had a g-string on under the suit.

I would think that filling a movie with a handful of quasi-stars from the land down under and putting them in drag would be a bad idea. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, is a surprisingly warm and heartfelt film. While it's nothing exceptional, it manages to stay funny and charming even when it's teetering on the verge of surreal insanity.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is the story of two drag queens and their transsexual friend, played amusingly by Hugo Weaving, Guy Pierce and Terrence Stamp, on a road trip across the Australian Outback to perform a drag show at a casino in the middle of nowhere. You say they need a reason? I say you're wrong, but they do have one. The show is a favor for Weaving's ex-wife and along the way they get mixed up in some wacky situations, like only good old fashioned drag queens can. Directed by unknown Australian director Stephan Elliot, whose only subsequent films were flops, the film picked up an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, which is whole-heartedly deserved, and it has a respectable cult following mostly because of the later, and significantly more serious, work of it's two stars.

The film is unquestionable a gay movie, about homosexual themes, experiences and lifestyle, but it finds it's own stride stylistically and thematically. The film is certainly very interesting to look at. The costume designers put some serious time, effort and creativity in the film and it pays off by blessing the film with an outrageously different visual style. That's obvious to see, but what I was most impressed with was the character drama and progression. Sure, there are the typical gay "fish out of water" themes about the gay, city being in a rural part of Australia and the conflict that causes, but that wasn't the overall focus of the film. I thought it was really interesting to see Weaving come to terms with being a drag queen and having a son. That conflict was really unique and a welcome change of pace. I also found the other characters generally interesting and well motivated.

While generally interesting and well made, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is really nothing special. It does everything well, but I found very little to truly be impressed with. It's fun to watch Weaving and Pierce strut their stuff in full drag, but even the novelty of that wears off quickly. The film will probably always have a substantial, and deserved, cult following even if it's just pretty average movie. If you want to be really impressed, I suggest seeing Hedwig and the Angry Inch instead.


1 comment:

The Movie Mistress said...

I agree with you about the deserved Best Costume design- that was one of the most fun parts of watching this movie. But I really think there's some brilliant social commentary that gets overlooked during this movie because of the overkill gay sentimentality. I wouldn't call it "nothing special" at all. I respect your opinions, though. Thanks for the review! Mine is up too.