This gay drama could have had the writing as wondrous as the leading man.
Sorry if I’m a little late with this review of “Swan Song,” but I was busy with some work and the recent departure of my grandfather Julius Zweig. He was born in 1926 and died this year at the age of 95, not to the virus, but to his dementia condition. I’m going to miss him for all he’s done for me, my family, and almost everyone around him.
But I managed to find the time after the funeral and repass to see the movie online, and when I saw Udo Kier playing a retired flamboyant hairdresser, I knew I’d be in for an interesting character study. Writer/director Todd Stephens is best known for his gay features like “Edge of Seventeen” (1998), and “Another Gay Movie,” and with “Swan Song,” he allows us to see the main protagonist in a different light, but it lacks the poignant story he deserves. It seems more concerned about its appearance than it is on the development.
The hairdresser’s name is Pat Pitsenbarger, and now spends his days in the old home where he spends his time folding napkins and smoking, despite a previous stroke of his. He learns that a former client of his-the philanthropist Rita Parker-Sloan (Linda Evans)-has passed away, and her dying wish is to have him do her hair. He rejects the wish at first, saying: “I’m retired” (of course he would; it’s a movie law), he gazes at the newspaper, looks through his old stuff, and his old styles reemerge.
He begins walking to town to take care of the dying wish with his fashionable nature: the diamond ringers, the cigarettes, and the hat. The best outfit from him comes almost an hour in the movie is a green suit, beige scarf, and purple hat, all of which a nice thrift shop owner Sue (Stephanie McVay) trades for a pink hat he’s currently wearing. And I just love how he holds the cigarette.
Jennifer Coolidge comes in as Dee Dee Dale, a former assistant-turned nemesis of his, who starts her own salon, right across the street from his failing business. The only reason he came to her is to get the shampoo for Rita’s hair, and she gives it to him, not that they’re good or anything. Because they’re not.
And he also visits the grave of one of his lovers, David, who died from AIDS, and the spirits of Rita and Eunice (Ira Hawkins), another friend of his, also talk to Pat. Something could have done more with these two characters, because they have a natural passion about their lives with the lead, but they’re only given less than five minutes of screen time.
Kier gives one of his best performances as a gay man, who has his own tastes in fashion and comes to terms with what his life was and what it could have been. His dialogue and charisma had me acknowledging his presence. But he isn’t given the story he deserves. It’s often lagging and derivative with it supporting characters, who just come and go. They could have been more exhilarating if they were written with a certain kind of ease.
“Swan Song” has a sense of style that loves the LGBTQ community with its colorful images and remarkable fashion. You also have to add an eclectic taste in music to match its complexion and tone. But the movie seems so concerned about its appearance that it ends up losing the story it deserves. Again, the lead actor and main character are both fabulous, and I’ve enjoyed chunks of “Swan Song,” but it needs to do more than look good.
In Select Theaters and Streaming On Demand