So I have a question for you, reader. When you think of actor Udo Kier, what place immediately comes to mind? To me, it is probably some decadent corner of a Berlin bar. It certainly IS NOT Sandusky, Ohio. However, that is where we meet our beloved thespian in writer/director Todd Stephens’ Swan Song, playing retired hairdresser Pat Pitsenbarger. Not only is Pat retired, but he also is in a nursing home and has recently suffered a stroke. However, this doesn’t stop him from sneaking cigarettes and basically doing whatever he wants despite the nursing home staff.
How did this flamboyant German man end up in Sandusky? That’s not really made clear, but we are let in on the fact that Pat used to be the most successful hairdresser in town. His most influential client was a bleach-blonde republican Barbie billionaire, Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans). The bulk of the story is us discovering how Pat fell down the proverbial ladder.
Pat gets a visit from a lawyer, Mr. Shanrock (Tom Bloom). Unfortunately, Shanrock is also the same person who took away the inheritance Pat would’ve received from his husband at the request of the deceased’s nephew. He’s not happy to see this guy, but he has a proposition. Rita Parker Sloan has passed away and wants Pat to do her hair for her funeral. She’s also left a provision to pay him $25,000, which he desperately needs.
“…a quest to get to the funeral home in time to fix Rita’s hair.”
What follows is a hilarious escape from the nursing home and a quest to get to the funeral home in time to fix Rita’s hair. Along the way, we meet Pat’s former apprentice turned rival Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge). While she doesn’t get a lot of screentime throughout Swan Song, Coolidge’s scenes, like all everything she’s ever done, if we’re being serious, are awesome. The journey itself reinvigorates him in a certain way, but we see how old age is affecting his mental faculties.
To be as glib as humanly possible, I could refer to Swan Song as the gay Nebraska, but it’s not that simple. Kier often plays character roles in major films and steals every single scene he’s ever in. For example, his role in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia is one of the most inspired performances by a character actor I have ever seen. So to see Kier as a lead, especially so late in his career, is very exciting. His face and body language speak volumes. In fact, that happens quite a bit, as this isn’t the most verbose of films.
I highly recommend Swan Song. While it’s essentially a comedy, it talks about death, poverty, and betrayal. It’s layered like that. It discusses the rampant homophobia in suburban America. Most importantly, it is an American movie with Kier in every scene. How could you not want to see that? I also have to say that if, for some horrible reason, you don’t know who Udo Kier is, this is a perfect introduction. Stephens knows how to get outstanding performances from all the actors. He creates a whimsical atmosphere in a scenario that could be unbearable heavy. This is probably one of the most fun movies I’ve seen that hangs its hat in a land of death. Yet, it celebrates life, which we all need a little bit more of, don’t you think?
"…it celebrates life..."