This offbeat Australian road movie about a busload of female impersonators became a surprise hit in the US, heralding a wave of cinematic interest in cross-dressing that would embrace everything from WIGSTOCK, a documentary about New York's much-loved open air drag festival, to the
star-studded mainstream production, TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR.
Drag performer Tick/Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) invites recently bereaved transsexual Bernadette (Terence Stamp) to join him and Adam/Felicia (Guy Pearce) on a journey to the outback town of Alice Springs, where they've been invited to put on a show at a casino run by an ex-partner of Tick's. The
Priscilla of the title is the dilapidated bus Adam buys for the trip.
PRISCILLA is less concerned with "normalizing" gay lifestyles than earlier cross-dressing comedies such as LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and VICTOR/VICTORIA. The script is spiked with cheeky, occasionally hilarious encounters, like the trio's stroll through a lazy Outback town in flamboyant space-age drag,
or Bernadette's deliciously unprintable riposte to a hostile woman in a bar. But the film tends toward pat, sitcom-style resolutions to its potentially interesting conflicts, and cannot sustain the manic, farcical pace of its best moments.
Things truly come alive during the drag performances and rehearsals, boosted by an irrepressible disco soundtrack. The Oscar-winning costumes by Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel are wildly inspired, and the filmmakers indulge themselves--and us--with extended shots of the outrageously attired
performers set against the spectacularly barren landscape. The true heart of the movie, though, is Terence Stamp. He may be a little stiff in the show routines but, offstage, he's a revelation, giving a performance of near-perfect restraint and dignity.
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