Film review: Swan Song

Udo Kier stars in a moving and funny portrait of a man rediscovering his sparkle

Hero image

Swan Song (from 10 June, selected cinemas, regionwide) is a comedy drama by gay American filmmaker Todd Stephens. Based on a real character, the film follows Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), once the go-to hairstylist in the small town of Sandusky, Ohio. Following the death of his partner and a stroke, Pat has fallen on hard times and when we first meet him, he is a broken man: poor, barely able to speak, and shuffling around at the end of his life in a nursing home.

When he learns of a former client’s dying wish for him to style her final hairdo, however, Pat hitches a ride back to the community he once knew to complete the job. In doing so, through poignant and sometimes hilarious encounters with various townsfolk, he is forced to confront a variety of ghosts from his past and face up to the fact that the world has changed since he’s been away.

Kier plays Pat perfectly, delicately charting his transformation from the sad and lonely elderly man of the film’s opening to the bejewelled, peppermint pantsuit-wearing queen Pat once was – a persona that re-emerges with triumphant aplomb. And there are some lovely naturalistic performances from the supporting cast too, especially the fantastic but sadly underused Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Pat’s former employee turned hairdressing rival.

This is clearly a deeply personal film for Stephens, based on the real Pat Pitsenbarger whom he met in a gay bar in his hometown of Sandusky back in the mid-1980s. But aside from a homage to the man himself, Stephens has crafted a film that celebrates a dying community that fought for the rights upon which modern queer lives are built.

Finding out that the gay bar where he was once a star performer is due to be turned into a microbrewery bar, Pat laments “I wouldn’t even know how to be gay anymore,” as he watches two gay dads play in the park with their child while marvelling at the technology that means you can meet someone for sex with the swipe of a finger.

What starts out as a rather grim, quiet tale develops into a delightfully tender story about someone rediscovering their inner sparkle, when moments of tragedy and sadness are shot through with kindness and humour. Simply fabulous.

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Film review: Swan Song

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.