With 277 acting credits behind his name, Udo Kier is undoubtedly one of the most renowned actors in the industry. He made his long feature film debut in “Shameless” in 1968, and along the way, he was mostly typecast as the villain, especially in movies such as “Far Cry” and “Life Is Too Long”. However, he now finally gets the chance to blossom, express himself in many ways and take the lead for once. This is thanks to “Swan Song” by director Todd Stephens (“Gypsy 83”, “Another Gay Movie”). The result is a highly flamboyant, poignant and eye-opening Kier masterclass about the fact that it’s never too late to find yourself.
In a previous life, the eccentric and fearless Pat Pitsenbarger (Kier) was the hairdresser of many famous people of Sandusky, but now he lives in a grey and silent nursing home. His life became bleaker, but he still knows how to rock a fabulous haircut, a statement t-shirt, and a fanny pack and still oozes audacity, confidence and suaveness.
One day, his grey world is turned upside down when Pat is visited by Mr Shanrock (Tom Bloom), Rita Parker Sloan’s lawyer. She was the wealthiest woman in Sandusky and Pat’s most precious customer. Sloan (Linda Evans) has died, and in her will, she stated that she wants to be buried looking like a real queen.
While Pat’s being offered $25k to do her hair and makeup, he refuses because of his fallout with Rita. However, when the boredom and greyness become overwhelming, Pat escapes the horrible place, takes on the assignment and wanders to his hometown. On his way, he comes across the salon of the hairdresser Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge), Pat’s former student.
The two have a long-troubled history as Dee Dee made Pat go broke when she turned on him. He’s also haunted by his deceased partner David (Eric Eisenbrey), who died of AIDS and who reminds us of all the men we lost during that awful crisis in the 80s. Throughout his journey, Pat passes by the places that remind him of his flamboyant highs and terrible lows. Will he find the strength to confront his past and future to fulfil Rita’s dying wish, or will his fall from grace become too much?
Pat is based on a real-life person, and with this script, Stephens doesn’t only make sure that “Swan Song” is the love letter Sandusky and its people deserve but also that Kier gets the opportunity to embrace the character fully and make Pat his own.
Kier’s performance is modest, heart-warming and quiet but at the same time also grandiose, passionate and powerful. Sandusky’s local icon gets a beautiful tribute thanks to the warmth, sympathy, and quirkiness Kier radiates. Kier finally gets his chance to show us he’s more than just a villain in a B-movie.
We also see another side of Coolidge (“Promising Young Woman”, “American Pie”) this time. She plays a more wicked part instead of her usually uplifting and amusing ones, but her outstanding, strong and impressive performance shows us that she can take on any role and brings it perfectly to the screen.
While Stephen’s screenplay is exceptional, it comes with one big flaw. The timeline of Pat’s life is quite unclear. You see flashbacks, but you don’t know when the events took place. They slow down the pace instantly and the film becomes a bit too bizarre and sluggish at times.
While “Swan Song” doesn’t hit the right notes every time, the film is undoubtedly a perfect mix of glitz, nostalgia, stirring emotions and eccentricity. From poignant scenes to sarcastic conversations and from flamboyant moments to modest gestures, it’s all there. The stunning, captivating acting by Kier and the dramatic, perfect performance by Coolidge ensure that the movie is beautifully balanced and that “Swan Song” becomes a glittering, bizarre and unique gem.
“Swan Song” is now out in U.K. cinemas