A campy ode to alternative lifestyles and the music of ABBA, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is nonetheless rarely played for straight laughs, respecting the dignity of its subjects too much to mock them. Instead, it's a rich study of how smiles and wit can conceal, or fail to conceal, private pain. Like the American movie it obviously inspired, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), Priscilla dresses up in drag a bunch of actors who (in retrospect, if not at the time) are more familiar to audiences in macho contexts: British heavy Terence Stamp and Aussies Guy Pearce (a hard-boiled cop in L.A. Confidential) and Hugo Weaving (the villainous agent in The Matrix). The trio has a rollicking good time across the outback, in spite of the vitriol they must often deflect, giving a sadly realistic glimpse of the defensive shield those at society's fringes must assimilate as a given part of their daily lives. Stamp in particular stands out, eloquently weathered for what seems to be his last hurrah. Director Stephan Elliott astutely captures the strange clashing of the big city (the flamboyant road trippers) and the back water (their hosts and hecklers). Beyond being a fond favorite among gay audiences, the film's sensitive character portrayal has earned it a wider appreciation that exceeds cult status.
by Derek Armstrong review