If ever a film flaunted itself, it’s “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” A cheerfully vulgar and bitchy, but essentially warmhearted, road movie with a difference, which boasts an amazing star turn by Terence Stamp as a transsexual, Stephan Elliott’s second feature is a lot of fun, and should appeal to tolerant audiences everywhere. It gets a double festival launch, first in San Francisco and a few days later at a midnight screening in Cannes, and enthusiastic reaction on both sides of the Atlantic should lead to solid sales for the Polygram/Latent Image production.
With, apparently coincidentally, a similar plot to the upcoming Beeban Kidron pic for Amblin/Universal, “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar,” “Priscilla” has a simple narrative that’s really just a peg on which to allow its three leads to have a great time in drag.
Stamp plays Bernadette, whose lover has recently died. She decides to team up with gay friends Tick (Hugo Weaving) and Adam (Guy Pearce), who are heading to the central Australian town of Alice Springs to perform a drag act at a casino. The invitation to perform has been offered by Tick’s ex-wife, and he’s a little ashamed to reveal the fact that he once was married.
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The trio purchases a not-very-reliable second-hand bus they name Priscilla, and set out from Sydney on the long journey across the desert. Along the way, they experience a number of adventures, including confronting small-town amazement and prejudice, an encounter with aborigines (one of whom joins them in a spirited performance of “I Will Survive”) and the inevitable vehicular breakdown.
They also encounter an aging hippie, Bob (the always reliable Bill Hunter), who is frustrated at life with his Asian wife and who tags along with them, forming an attachment to Bernadette.
The plot of “Priscilla” isn’t as important as the outlandish, wicked dialogue , the wild costumes and makeup, and the general high spirits of the entire enterprise. Dressed in femme clothes throughout, Stamp gives one of his best perfs as the bereaved woman whose latent masculinity occasionally shows through her graciously elegant exterior and who throws herself into the drag numbers with enthusiasm. Also excellent are Weaving, as the bisexual Tick, and Pearce as the muscular but fey Adam, whose obsession with Abba manifests itself in a genuinely bizarre fashion.
Pic is just a smidge long, but it would be unfair to say it drags. All production credits are spectacularly good, starting with Brian J. Breheny’s widescreen photography, which makes the Australian desert look like the landscape of an alien planet. Special mention must be made of the amazingly elaborate costumes by Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel. The score by Guy Gross also deserves a nod.
Although the film doesn’t make concessions to a straight audience, it’s so outrageous that it becomes positively disarming. It’s hard not to respond to such a cheerfully vulgar and in-your-face entertainment, though this is obviously not for the very strait-laced. It should certainly break out of the cult and gay markets and find comparatively wide acceptance.
Great soundtrack includes standards by Village People, Lena Horne, Patti Page and, of course, Abba.
End credits are filled with joke references; for example, pic was supposedly filmed in “Dragarama,” Libby Blainey is credited for Title Design and Bad Acting , and Matt Inglis is Best Naughty Boy.