- Colin Fraser
THREE STARS Hiding in an old folks home, Pat was the best hair stylist in town. Then he's asked to come out of retirement to do one last job. COMEDY DRAMA USA #SWANSONG
Starring Udo Kier, Jennifer Coolidge
Having established himself in arthouse highlights like FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA, Germany’s Udo Kier is better known as a menacing presence in countless movies (he’s starred in over 274 to date). Now he’s done a Terence Stamp (to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance), and gone against type to embrace a wig and makeup in the rather touching drama, SWAN SONG.
Pat Pitsenbarger (Kier) was a big-fish hair-stylist in the small-pond of an unremarkable, mid-west town. He was a byword for glamour, the town’s Liberace until age put Pat in an old-folks home where he swapped his safari suit for sweatshirts and has been left to sneak cigarettes when grouchy nurses aren’t looking. His is the future we all fear.
Then socialite Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans) dies. Her wills states that Pat must style her hair for the open casket and so, ultimate professional that he is, decides to take one last shot at the big time. He escapes the home and embarks on a (slow) journey across town while reacquainting himself with his past, the town and himself. There are also some hatchets to bury before they do the same to Mrs Sloan.
Writer/director Todd Stephens breaks with the kind of movies he’s better known for like ANOTHER GAY MOVIE and ANOTHER GAY SEQUEL. This feels altogether more personal, it’s certainly more heartfelt. He drops the shiny, bitchy gloss of Queer-LA cinema in favour of something more akin to late-90’s indie films. It’s rougher, looser and while it meanders out of focus and has some inexplicable lapses in logic, there are so many touching moments that it’s all quite forgivable.
SWAN SONG is a road film of sorts, one in which Pat encounters the town’s more colourful people, though none are as colourful as himself of course. His nemesis (a winningly dour Jennifer Coolidge cast against type) is foremost among them, a coupling that provides many of the film’s better insights. Pat also stops off at the local gay bar on closing night, a pivotal moment which has a lot to say about the disconnection between economies, community and generational need. Not to mention the danger of wearing a chandelier on your head.
As Pat comes to learn, at some point the world leaves all of us behind. This idea ensures SWAN SONG is more than a campy tale of a local legend. It digs deeper into the human experience than you first expect, revealing a soulful poignancy that rises above the sequinned premise. Stephens starts the process but it is Kier who brings it home with a sincerity that rises joyfully above any tired gay stereotype. Rough spots aside, SWAN SONG is worth your time.