“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” is actually a gag name given to a rickety bus, the conveyance used by three Australian drag queens to travel from their home base of Sydney to a gig at a casino in Alice Springs, a remote town of 25,000 people in the desert of Australia’s outback.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a road movie about this journey of Ralph (Bernadette), Tick (Mitzi), and Adam (Felicia).
These are not passable transsexuals. They are campy, stage performer female impersonators who look like the men in dresses that they are, and the dresses are the wild type that no one other than drag queens in a show would ever wear. Outfits with several foot high headdresses and such.
Bernadette is the most serious of them, an older performer whose husband has recently died and who has limited tolerance for the shenanigans of the other two. Felicia is the most flaming, the kind of person who is always performing whether on stage or off. Mitzi is kind of in between these two—more flamboyant than Bernadette, but more able to be serious than Felicia. Mitzi is maybe a little more subdued than normal in that he’s dealing with the emotionally powerful fact that he has family that he left behind in Alice Springs that he’ll be seeing after a long time.
As you’d expect in a road movie, and based on the title, they have more than their share of adventures on the journey, which takes them through places so obscure and backward that they make Alice Springs seem like quite the cosmopolitan, liberal community. Their bus has an inconvenient tendency to break down in some of the last places in the world you’d want to be stranded.
I mostly didn’t get into The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And to the extent that it did end up connecting with me, I suspect it was for different reasons from why most people would like it.
The film is mostly played for laughs, with some potentially more serious elements concerning relationships, homophobic violence, etc.
It’s one of those movies where you imagine the writers having a wonderful time, because this is their opportunity to let loose and include all the most outrageous content they can think of.
And I imagine most people love that. When they’re walking out of a film like this, what they’re remembering and talking about, and eagerly mentioning to other people about why “you have to see this movie!” are things like the inflatable sex doll made into a kite, the stripper shooting ping pong balls from her nether regions, all those wild, over-the-top drag costumes, etc.
Whereas to me that all comes across as stuff that probably seemed a lot funnier in the writing than on the screen. Really the humor in this movie rarely did much for me.
I’m not the slightest bit offended by it. But I typically didn’t even crack a smile at that stuff. It’s just outrageousness for its own sake, with little or no particular cleverness to it. (I’m coming across like a dreadful old stick-in-the-mud I know.)
I actually liked the human elements of the film a lot more. Often a movie like this has only a perfunctory story, something to hang the gags on. But whereas I thought most of the humorous parts of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert were semi-duds, some of the dramatic parts worked quite well.
I thought the main characters were developed reasonably well, and I especially found Bernadette worth getting to know.
I liked the way it was kind of unpredictable who would turn out to be homophobic and who would have no problem with the drag queens. Some people fit their stereotypes and plenty didn’t, just like in the real world.
I found Bob, who ends up tagging along with them for much of the film, to be a very likable and interesting character, and I appreciated the way he interacted with the three protagonists, especially Bernadette, and the way their relationships developed.
I ended up with a warmer feeling for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert than I would have anticipated while I was watching it, and that was due 80% to the dramatic elements and 20% to the comic elements. The film never rose to a very high level for me, but I admit it grew on me.