Review: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the DesertGiven that I’ve lived in Australia for more than half of my life, it is quite embarrassing that it was in Japan that I finally saw Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. (Even more embarrassingly, this was probably well over a year ago now, if memory serves.) Though I do have at least a couple of things to be thankful for, those being that I wasn’t plagued by the image of drag queens in The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, or L.A. Confidential.

Anyways, this is the classic Aussie road-trip movie. Well, classic, Aussie drag queen road-trip movie. It’s famous enough that any Australian would have to hide his/her face in shame if they didn’t know what it was about. Tick/Mitzi, responding to his ex-wife’s request to take perform at her Alice Springs Casino, thus granting her a holiday, convinces a fellow drag queen and a recently bereaved transvestite to join him. The three – an insecure drag queen fearing the consequences of his son finding out about his “secret, a serious, streetsmart old hand, and a head strong and annoyingly naive idiot – thus take a bus trip through the Australian desert, That’s miles and miles of empty road with desert stretching out on all sides, dotted by a few towns and mining communities. Besides the prejudice against minorities that one often finds in the country, and the occassional hazard due to long months of forced abstinence, the greatest trials they face are boredom and its consequences. How a group of drag queens deal with it is, of course, probably vastly different from what most other people would do.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Priscilla. Not even because I wasn’t taking it seriously, because, as the characters experiences encompass some situations and problems that drag queens might encounter in Australia, especially in the outback. In particular, the insecurities that Tick/Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) carries with him with regards to “coming out” in front of his son speak about the difficulties of living in a culture that has such clearly defined roles for men and women. His son’s reaction also says mountains about the renown (though perhaps now stereotypical) ability of children to accept things that raise confrontations in others – again, another product of society.

However, this film really bring a refreshing, tongue-in-cheek viewpoint to the Australian outback. The warm (if bare) beauty of the interior is really brought to the fore, though I might be plauged by the image of a long flowing dress atop a bus crossing the great Aussie desert if/when I ever take my own road trip! The trio’s interaction with a troupe of Aborigines – from the encounter to the explanation (of what they do) and the performance was also gold.

Looking through the script again…the dialogue really was brilliant, camp but brilliant. And the delivery made it work. Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce are miles away from any other role I’ve ever seen them in – it’s difficult to reconcile them with the stiff-necks in two of the afore-mentioned movies, though the dignity of Elrond in my mind might certainly have suffered if I’d seen Priscilla when it first came out. But above all, I loved Terrence Stamp’s Bernadette, for her confidence, no-nonsense attitude, and the following words of wisdom, which can be applied (almost) anywhere and everywhere:

No, I’m not sure. But I’ll never know unless I give it a shot.

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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