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MOVIE REVIEW - The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Director: Stephan Elliott
Review by E. Lisa Moses

Rating ***

St. Tropez has La Cage aux Folles; South Beach has The Birdcage. Sydney has Priscilla, Queen of the Desert a bus carrying three drag queens across the Australian outback to Alice Springs for a gig.

What a treat it is to watch Terence Stamp, as transsexual Bernadette, apply lipstick in a moving bus, especially since she is the polar opposite to Stamp's macho Dave Wilson in The Limey (1999). It's even more fun to watch the antics of her flamboyant gal-pals, Mitzi/Tick (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia/Adam (Guy Pearce), made up with glittering eye shadow, huge lips and plastic wigs. Even the lavender bus, Priscilla, is a character crammed with the trappings of their colorful lives: feathers, sequins, boas, a sewing machine, paint, cosmetics, hormone pills and booze.

The kickoff adventure is in a small town where, in resplendent drag, the threesome holds its own little gay pride parade, stays over in a sleazy hotel and ends up dancing in a raunchy tavern before falling down drunk. In the bar, where everyone makes fun of them, Bernadette drinks a frightfully macho female under the table, after putting the woman in her place with some obscene tough talk.

The adventures in this 1994 movie continue with a bus breakdown as soon as they take a shortcut. The hapless trio finally finds a mechanic (Bob, played by Bill Hunter), who joins them, then falls for Bernadette. "Les girls" stage flamboyant performances along the way, dancing in fabulously tacky costumes and lip-synching to Abba and other musicians. They encounter every imaginable type of Australian, from redneck farmers in jeeps to Aborigines enjoying a coroboree.

The desert scenery is beautifully filmed, and Bernadette sums it up succinctly when she says, "It never ends, does it all that space." Golden sunsets, campfires, red earth, interesting rock formations and lovely lizards turn the screen into a colorful canvas.

In Alice Springs, the owner of the casino where they are booked to perform is Tick's wife, the lesbian mother of his young son. This situation leads to more merriment, and a realization that Sydney is the place for their act, after all. However, Bernadette stays behind to help with the casino's entertainment and to build a relationship with Bob. Tick, Adam and the boy pile into the bus and head back to Sydney, where they are adored and appreciated.

While it is a comedy, the movie tries to deals with deep life issues, such as dysfunction, bigotry and relationships. I found the attempts at drama somewhat weak, but did think that Stephan Elliott's portrayal of a depressed, middle-aged woman (Bernadette) was credible. The story of an older woman, trapped in a job that bores her and surrounded by taut, young flesh is a timely statement about the aging of the baby boomers. I especially like the note of optimism at the end, where Bernadette gets a chance at a different life.