Swan Song

Swan Song

2021, R, 105 min. Directed by Todd Stephens. Starring Udo Kier, Linda Evans, Jennifer Coolidge, Tom Bloom.

REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Aug. 13, 2021

One of the greatest films to have ever been made about the reflective, forgiving nature of growing old is David Lynch’s The Straight Story: a quiet cross-country journey about an older man who battles the road with a tractor to make amends with a brother he hasn’t spoken to in decades. In the film, Alvin Straight meets a number of characters who are touched by his wisdom and perseverance, while also giving him the space to contemplate his life and the people he’s loved along the way.

Todd Stephens’ Swan Song is the queer version of this self-reflective journey. Udo Kier plays Pat Pitsenbarger, a larger-than-life retired hairdresser who is biding the rest of his days on earth in a retirement facility, colorless and bored. He’s soon given the opportunity to escape by the dead hand of one of his old clients, Rita Parker Sloan (Evans), whose dying wish was for Pat to do her corpse’s hair to the tune of $25,000. Thus, Pat begins his walk about town, revisiting old spots haunted by memory.

Swan Song is a spectacle for Kier. His performance is quiet but fabulous, a real showcase of a talent who’s often utilized for boisterous B-movie villainy. Stephens’ film, which is an unassuming, loving ode to a larger-than-life real figure of his small Ohio hometown, gives Kier the space to chew up the scenery in a patient course. Warmth radiates from Kier throughout his trek, whether it be with someone he’s meeting for the first time or a former one-time client who never forgot his stunning work on their hair. Kier’s understated performance not only gives Stephen’s local icon a beautiful, affectionate tribute, but celebrates Kier’s prowess as an actor.

Notwithstanding Kier’s impeccable presence, it is unfortunate that the filmmaking of Swan Song is fuzzy. The timeline of Pat’s walking tour is unclear, and coincidence is often embraced for smooth-sailing storytelling. Kier is the anchor, and everyone around him is just in orbit (Jennifer Coolidge as rival beautician Dee Dee Dale is surprisingly underused). The expedition, after all, belongs to Pat, processing his feelings about his former client and best friend who skipped his longtime partner’s funeral at the end. While there’s beauty in his encounters, the pacing is almost too quaint, often relying too much on Pat’s effervescent charm in Swan Song’s meandering script.

More often than not, legacy lives on through the people you touched along the way. In the case of Pat, his legacy has transcended, touching the lives of more than just those in Sandusky, Ohio. Stephens’ film is a sweet gesture, a personal ode to a hometown hero of his, and while the filmmaking itself is rusty, there’s enough love from Stephens and Kier alike to keep this little film afloat.

Available on VOD now.

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Swan Song, Todd Stephens, Udo Kier, Linda Evans, Jennifer Coolidge, Tom Bloom

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