I’m wrapping up reviews today, starting with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (dir. Stephan Elliott).
Priscilla stars Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terence Stamp as two drag queens and a transgender woman who go on a road trip across the Australian desert to perform a drag show in a remote resort town. Traveling in their purple bus named Priscilla, the three friends bicker, share stories, and deal with plenty of speedbumps along the way, including a break-down, romance, and impromptu drag shows.
The plot’s logic is somewhat strained at times, particularly after Weaving’s character Tick reveals his real reasons for wanting to go on the trip. But the film’s heart and the strength of the friendship between the three main characters never waver. Particularly for a movie from 1994, Priscilla it’s notable that while the movie finds humor in the characters’ campy, larger-than-life personalities, the characters never feel reduced to one-dimensional jokes. The cinematography and costume design are both superb and work together to create an incongruence between the characters’ flamboyancy and the raw nature of the Australian outback.
Priscilla does sometimes feel dated and has a few weak spots. A subplot involving a side character’s vulgar, gold-digging Filipina wife has understandably been criticized by a lot of people for being stereotypical, racist, and sexist. Flaws like this, and the fact that the dark humor can occasionally feel mean-spirited, keep it from being the perfect movie. Still, the film hits more high notes than not and is surprisingly nuanced about gender identity and sexual orientation. The humor works more often than not, especially when it’s centered on the three main characters. It’s also exciting that Stamp’s trans character, Bernadette, is not only given depth but finds a genuine and root-able romance on the trip.
Priscilla was one of the first LGBTQ-themed movies I ever saw, and for that reason, it still holds a lot of nostalgia for me.