Back in July I wrote an article for the Guardian on Guy Pearce’s five best performances. As you can see from the comments I rather glaringly omitted Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, for the simple reason that I hadn’t seen it. Well, now I have, and I can confirm I should have put it on the list.
Pearce plays Adam, a camp, bitchy drag queen who goes on a road trip with fellow drag queens middle-aged Tony (Hugo Weaving) and older, jaded transsexual Bernadette (Terence Stamp). If you primarily know Pearce from Memento, or Weaving from The Matrix you might be forgiven for thinking them odd choices, but they prove their incredible versatility as they bring these outrageous characters to life. The film is carried on their superb performances, for which they deserve immense praise.
It’s hard to tell if it’s deliberate, but the drag act the three perform is rubbish. They don’t tell jokes, or sing their own songs, they just dress up in sequinned clothing and mouth along to dodgy pop hits while doing unremarkable dance routines. Whether this is deliberate, or because of lack of innovation from the film makers, is unclear. I suspect the latter, as they are frequently referred to as the best in the business. In any case this is a minor tripping point as the drama and hilarity off stage is far more important than their mouthing along to ABBA.
It manages to address a huge number of LGBT issues, from homophobia to parenting to gender reassignment, all without self pity or becoming downbeat. It shows that in spite of the femininity of what they do, they have to be tougher than most to survive, but manages to be fun at the same time. This is a fantastically written film which is as funny as it is emotionally engaging. Add to this some brilliantly flamboyant costumes and the sweeping Australian scenery and you have a fabulous movie which completely steals the show.