The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) is my fiancee’s favourite film in the entire world. So even if I didn’t like it, I would lie and say I did. But I did like it. And that is not a lie.
It is easy to see why the film has become one of the most popular ‘contemporary’ Australian films, hovering somewhere between being a cult classic and an all out mainstream one. The film follows three drag queens as they traverse Australia from Sydney to Alice Springs to put on some shows. Or so they think. As with any road film, as the journey unfolds, the reasons for it become more complicated. And as with all of the best road films the journey is not merely a physical one as all three go on major internal journeys as they travel along in their titular bus Priscilla. The film is simultaneously wonderfully rambunctious but also quite considered in both the narrative and how it is telling it. One of the major selling points of the film is the costumes and it deservedly won an Oscar for costume design. The costumes are totally over the top but also so well thought out and at the service of the character. It is not a case of just slapping the silliest, biggest, wildest drag queen costume on the actors. It is about reflecting the character, where their arc is up to and the current situation of the film. I heard the other day that they tried, but unfortunately failed to make a dress made entirely of Vegemite toast (do you guys even know what Vegemite is?). That would have been a real sight to see!
The performances are all excellent. Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce really launched there careers with this film, careers that would take them from an Aussie drag queen comedy all the way to blockbusters such as The Matrix (1999) and Iron Man 3 (2013). Without this film it is highly doubtful that they would have made it there. Both of them are excellent and they bring to life two totally different characters that thankfully illustrate that the film is more than happy to eschew drag queen cliche for three dimensional characters. Cast against type, Terence Stamp is along for the ride, helping no end to launch the careers of these two and make this film into the classic it is is. His character is probably the most minor of the three leads in terms of screen time but it is arguable that this character and this performance are the most important to the overall success of the film. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a musical but it is far more than a collection of songs linked together with a little backstory. It engages with issues such as LGBTI rights and sets them against a specific time and place in Australia. Mind you there is a feeling watching this today that a lot of it is still more than relevant.
As a massive proponent of Aussie film, I highly recommend you catch this one if you never have. It is a hilarious and touching classic not afraid to push boundaries and you can’t ask for too much more in a film.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
2014 Progress: 8/101