Udo Kier’s latest film, Swan Song, is based on the real hairstylist nicknamed the Liberace of Sandusky, Ohio. Who knew? The last in the “Ohio Trilogy” from director Todd Stephens stars Kier as Pat Pitsenbarger, aka Mr. Pat, who comes out of his retirement home for one last hairstyling job: the corpse of a former client (Linda Evans).
SWAN SONG ?? (3/5 stars)
Realized by: Todd Stephens
Written by: Todd Stephens
With : Udo Kier, Jennifer Coolidge, Linda Evans
Duration of operation: 105 minutes
The structure of Swan song is a recognizable indie staple, a day in the life of a character roaming a small town full of, well, characters. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s worth it for Kier, who quietly maintains Pat’s regal allure even in the midst of a parade of humiliations, with the aging process chief among them. The plot is a slow burn as Pat gradually recovers his mojo, even as dementia erupts with hallucinations of friends and long-gone places.
At first, he is stuck in a dirty gray sweats, compulsively looting and folding towels from the kitchen of the nursing home, smoking on the sly. But flashbacks bring him to his heyday as a local pickup legend and elite hairstylist among Sandusky socialites. It helps to know that there is redemption on the other side of the nursing home scenes, as Stephens viscerally nails the institutional feel, the grueling grayness and blank stares of the kind of retirement home none of us have. would wish his loved ones.
It’s nice to see Kier, a German workhouse actor, in his first lead role in, apparently, 50 years. It’s a face you know from countless movies – depending on your taste, it could be My Own Private Idaho, or Bacurau, or if you’re a Philistine like me, Ace Ventura. During his career he became a strange icon, so it’s fitting to see Stephens celebrating him with this role, who at one point finds him parading down a runway with a chandelier on his head. His conversation with the Gen Z bartender at the dusty gay bar, on the eve of its closing, is a highlight. “Gay bars are so ’90s,” a friend told him with a sigh. But for Pat, it’s not a relic, it’s the ghost of a safe space when these were scarce.
Stephens plays a few key roles perfectly, most notably Jennifer Coolidge (currently killing him in The White Lotus) as an assistant to Pat who left him to create a rival salon. And Stephens made an inspired choice to make Evans the deceased. Pat’s glory days were in the days of the Evans Big Hair Dynasty, also the epicenter of the AIDS crisis that killed his partner. His emotional journey around the character of Evans having abandoned him, despite his own AIDS fears, feels interestingly connected to the present moment. Can we learn to forgive people who have acted in a monstrous way during an epidemic? The fabulous Kier turn offers a glimmer of hope.