July 28, 2012

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Three drag queens in Australia go on a road trip to do some shows. It's sort of a combination of Easy Rider, a John Waters movie minus most of the vulgarity, and a Village People concert. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert features standout performances by the three leads: Terence Stamp, as the aging drag queen who's getting tired of being in the biz, Hugo Weaving, whose character has the closest link to a "normal life" (he's got a wife and a kid, but he doesn't see much of them), and Guy Pearce, as the most rambunctious of the trio. It's quite an entertainment, particularly when the guys put on their outlandish outfits and lip sync to Donna Summer, ABBA, Vanessa Williams, and a number of other pop music numbers. (The costumes even won an Academy Award.)

For straight men playing gay men in drag, these three are remarkably uninhibited, especially Pearce, who struts around like a peacock with a wig collection as varied as its feathers. And Stamp manages to bring subtlety and graciousness to a role that could very easily have turned into pure camp. He's grieving over the loss of his partner, and agrees to accompany the other boys for a change of scenery, never suspecting it may lead to new opportunities romantically speaking, when he meets an incredulously open-minded rural mechanic, who's married to a kooky mail-order-bride who herself likes to put on a show at the local bar (after she's had too much to drink). Weaving's storyline, in which he's headed for a rekindling of his relationship with his young son, feels almost too carefully designed to tug at the heart strings, particularly when the boy is revealed to be far more open-minded than his father imagined he would be. At the same time, you have to hand it to writer-director Stephan Elliott, who knows when to be garishly offbeat and when to be subtle and unashamedly sweet. It's a welcome dose of eccentricity mixed with heart that most movies seem to have forgotten.

With Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick, and Mark Holmes. 1994.

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