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Non-Review Review: The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no more f%$#ing Abba!

The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert is one of those wonderfully fun and upbeat little movies that often can’t help but draw a smile from even the most cynical of viewers. Despite a somewhat bitchy and frothy exterior, the film is a charming little road movie about a quirky little pseudo-family unit making their way through the heartland of Australia.


I have to admit, years after the realise of the film, it’s nice to see that those involved have move on to bigger things. Terence Stamp was always a name to respect among film fans, but it’s nice to see that translate into a nice leading role (which demonstrates that the actor isn’t afraid to take risks. It’s also nice to see that the movie managed to launch the careers of both Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving, although it’s very surreal to see them here – I am not sure that I will ever recover from seeing Pearce in a thong or hearing Weaving speak with his natural Australian accent.

Following three transvestites as they traverse the outback in a bus they name Priscilla, the movie wonderfully explores what it’s like to be an outsider looking in. Away from the big city, the three discover a completely different world – some of that world is welcoming, while some of it is threatened by their lifestyle choices. One of the better sequences in the movie illustrates that Australia has a long history of prejudice and creating groups functioning outside standard society – the three ladies stumble across an Aboriginal settlement, reminding us of the way the country treated those people for being different.

The rocky road ahead...

In fairness, the movie never labours too long on its core point. It never gets too tied down with telling us about the sort of attitudes our leads must face everyday. There are big moments – like when a bunch of rednecks assault one of the girls on noticing the size of her hands, or when the three wake up to find bigotry scrawled all over their bus. “No matter how tough I think I’m getting,” Tick remarks, “it still hurts.” And the three respond to this graffiti with the same brash confidence that they use against every other obstacle – they stand taller and prouder, painting the bus the loudest shape of pink you could imagine.

Despite these moments, the film is never too preahcy or too self-conscious. In fact, it seems gleefully aware of the type of “after school special” material that one might expect from a film like this. Indeed, in one cheekily brilliant subversion, the film mocks the suggestion that somebody who enjoys dressing up in drag must have some deep-rooted childhood issues. It’s a darkly hilarious little sequence which you’d imagine a less sophisticated movie would try to play entirely straight.

Even ignoring clever little flourishes like that, there’s an undeniable energy to the movie. Being entirely honest, I was pretty much on board with the film from the moment the bus left the station, the Village People’s Go West blaring loudly over the sound system. Along the way, as is typical for a road movie like this, the three stumble across a selection of individuals suggesting that everybody is “odd” or “eccentric” or “quirky” (or whatever euphemism you wish to use) in their own particular way.

Never a drag...

There are some slight problems with the film, to be honest. The most notable is the fact that the climactic musical number – the one that the girls have been practicing for for weeks – seems pretty dead and lifeless, especially compared to some of the earlier performances in the film. I know it might have been a trite cliché to have the three blow the roof off the establishment, but there’s a certain energy lacking from the performance.

In fact, the ending of the movies feels disappointingly… inconclusive, almost like we’ve just been treated to the middle section of each character’s journey – with the most fascinating ground still ahead to cover. I get that this is almost the point, but it still feels anti-climactic the way that things just resolve themselves and life sort of just carries on, the same but slightly different. It isn’t that various developments aren’t foreshadowed or hinted at (they are), it’s just that they sort of happen and then life goes on regardless.

It’s a minor complaint to make for what’s a solidly entertaining and wonderfully cheeky little film.

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