Those of you who have seen this film may be wondering how this fits into the “playing the other gender” category since it features drag queens. Actually, only two of the three characters are male drag queens – Tick, played by Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) and Adam, played by Guy Pearce (Memento). The third major character is Bernadette, a female transsexual played by General “kneel before” Zod himself, Terence freaking Stamp.
Sidney, Australia based performer, arranges to do a drag show at Alice Springs, a remote resort town in the middle of the Australian continent. He is doing it for his friend Marion, who runs the place where they will perform. He convinces Adam to go with him, but Bernadette is another matter. She has recently suffered a heartbreaking loss and doesn’t really feel like doing much of anything. They finally convince her that a change of scenery will do her good.
They head off across the continent in a big pink bus that has been named Priscilla. They have all their outfits and props with them. As they get further and further into the outback they encounter people who don’t have a single clue what they are, and some who do, but don’t like them. It is the reactions of these people that provide some of the humor and some of the drama.
The bus breaks down in one town and Adam, the obnoxious one, decides to see if he can stir up trouble. He succeeds, and gets badly beaten as a result. Bob (Bill Hunter), the man who was fixing the bus, decides to join them on the rest of their trip. He was about the only person in his town to not hate them when they arrived.
Along the way we see some performances from Tick, Adam, and Bernadette. Think of a cheesy song played incessantly on the radio in the 1970s and it’s probably used in this movie as part of one of their acts. Their costumes are as over the top as you might expect, and I still vividly remember Tick stepping off the bus in an outfit made entirely of flip-flops. Even his earrings were mini flip-flops. This movie ending up winning an Oscar for Best Costume Design.
The four eventually do get to
Alice Springs, but they find that Tick has not been honest with them. Amongst his friends where everyone is as “out” as can be, it turns out he has been keeping some secrets from them.
I didn’t know either Weaving or Pearce from anywhere when I saw this film. True story: I rented The Matrix in 1999. Every time Agent Smith would appear he would look familiar and I couldn’t figure out why. About halfway through the movie Weaving said something, or moved a certain way, and all of a sudden I said to myself, “Holy crap! It’s the drag queen in flip-flops from The Adventures of Priscilla!” Needless to say, I didn’t see Agent Smith the same the rest of the film.
I mentioned at the top that it is Stamp’s character of Bernadette that is the heart of the picture. I did know him, of course, and it was a bit mind boggling to see him playing a woman. He doesn’t get to be outrageous or rude like his two co-stars, and at first it was easy to overlook him. As the movie went on, though, I noticed that he played Bernadette with both grace and as much dignity as possible. Ultimately, it didn’t matter that the character was a transsexual; all I saw was a woman beaten down by circumstance, caught in a job that didn’t do much for her anymore, and just going through the motions of life. It’s great, then, when you see her come alive as a result of the adventures that she shares in.
A couple of notes: 1. Stay tuned after the credits for an additional scene; 2. I have not seen the American semi-clone Too Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995), so I do not know how the two compare.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is not for everyone. Obviously, if you are homophobic you should probably skip this film. If you don’t like “quirky” then this is also probably not the film for you. For everyone else, especially people looking for something a little different, I recommend that you give this film a try.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars