The one of a kind cult actor Udo Kier (Andy Warhol’s “Blood of Dracula”) stars in Todd Stephens’ film “Swan Song.” The film is understated and affectionate. Though it takes on a heavy subject, loss and the passage of time, it has moments of lightness and easy humor that will satisfy every audience.
Pat (Kier) is a septuagenarian hairdresser bored in a nursing home. He frequently travels back to the 1980s, when he was able to be showy and loquacious, much in demand. He spends his time trying to liven an unresponsive patient and covertly smoke More cigarettes.
One day, a Mr. Shanrock (Tom Bloom) an influential banker, proposes that Pat style his newly deceased wife’s hair for $25,000 before her funeral. Pat, who knew the woman Rita Parker Sloane, a socialite, flatly refuses.
Meanwhile the fluorescent grind of the home is bringing Pat down. Abruptly, he gathers a few things and walks slowly out of the home.
What follows is a kind of “pedestrian” road movie where Pat confronts many memories and people from his past. He is often pleasantly bemused along the way by the sheer variety, even though he is periodically moved to tears.
In tone and spirit, this quiet, direct and moving film recalls David Lynch’s “A Straight Story.” With a tranquil, meditative and clear rhythm, Pat walks on foot (and in a motorized chair) across the town of Sandusky, Ohio with one goal in mind: to enjoy life.
There are slightly dark touches too. Pat who is ill as a survivor of a stroke, feels blighted and somewhat cursed by two women, the vindictive hairdresser Dee Dee (Jennifer Coolidge) and the memory of Rita (Linda Evans). Pat’s salon is long gone and his house demolished.
Kier, who usually plays offbeat and over the top horror roles, is terrific here in his most low-key, but also most genuine, outing.
His comic timing is impeccable. One funny scene has a glum, blue collar cashier regard Pat with a poker face. While this reaction is a cliché in many films, Kier gives it just the right measure of ham and seriousness to make it as riotous as anything by John Waters.
There is much camp and kitsch in Pat’s personality but things are also eerie. One sees Pat meeting an old nightclub friend (Ira Hawkins) but then, in a brief shock, it is revealed that Pat is talking to himself.
A feeling of apprehension ensues. This is a road movie fused with “Death in Venice.” A bloody nose signals danger.
If you are missing the usual madcap guise of Udo Kier, rest easy. In a climactic scene, the actor is crowned in a full chandelier dotted with fireworks.
“Swan Song” underscores the human, grounded, and fragile spirit behind a performer who many see only as a theatrical florid persona. In this film, it is just as authentic to be subtle as it is to be sensational.
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