#SXSW: “SWAN SONG”
Review by David Baldwin
Pat Pitsenbarger (legendary character actor Udo Kier) used to be a popular hairdresser in Sandusky, Ohio. Now he lives his remaining years in a nursing home, folding napkins and sneaking a smoke or two when the nurses are not looking. When Pat discovers that one of his former clients has died and that her dying wish was for him to style her hair for the funeral, he escapes the home and sets his sights on rediscovering his roots.
SWAN SONG was one of my most anticipated films going into SXSW, and I was sadly left disappointed after watching it. Writer/Director Todd Stephens has constructed an intensely personal film about a larger than life character (based on a real person), and tells his story through a dream-like haze of memories, grief and regret. His intentions making the film are sincere, but it never feels like he is sure of himself or the story he wants to tell. Instead, he lets the Film meander from scene to scene completely disconnected from each other, bringing in new characters to interact with Pat and add very little to the plot that we cannot already surmise on our own from the things he tells them. Some of the more ghostly characters add a bit of depth to the proceedings, though it never seems clear what Stephens is getting at by adding them into the mix. With the way he stages the Film, perhaps it would have worked better as a Documentary about the real life Pat interspersed with dramatizations? At the very least, it would have made the Film feel more structurally sound.
All of those issues aside, it is still a great delight to see Kier in a rare leading role. He pours his heart and soul into his performance as Pat and has an uncanny knack for ensuring the camera stays focused squarely on him. His character is a little unconventional and a little bit of a caricature of stereotypical gay men. It is borderline offensive in some instances, and so pure and devastating in others. Kier’s weathered facial expressions say so much about Pat that the film around him simply cannot. The Supporting Cast do what they can –Jennifer Coolidge and Ira Hawkins are the two standouts – but no one comes even close to matching the Kier’s strength. His work here is beautiful and it deserved a much better film to house around it.
SWAN SONG screens Thursday, March 18, 2021 starting at 1 PM.