Review: Swan Song (2021)

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Swan Song (2021)

Directed by: Todd Stephens | 105 minutes | drama | Actors: Udo Kier, Jennifer Coolidge, Linda Evans, Michael Urie, Ira Hawkins, Stephanie McVay, Tom Bloom, Justin Lonesome, Thom Hilton, Shanessa Sweeney, Bryant Carroll, Shelby Garrett, Catherine L. Albers, Dave Sorboro, Roshon Thomas

Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), main character in ‘Swan Song’ (2019), is old. His body is failing him, but he is not deprived of anything by the well-meaning nursing at the care home where he lives. He continues to smoke cigarettes of his favorite brand, albeit secretly, and sometimes shares one with the physically limited co-resident. In the communal dining room he collects paper napkins, which he manically folds in half and keeps them. The grind of this monotonous existence has brought the man down, it seems.

Then Pat gets a visit: a lawyer, Mr. Shanrock, comes to tell him that Rita Parker-Sloan has passed away. From his words, we infer that she was a local, quite wealthy celebrity. Her recently revised will states that Pat is responsible for her make-up and hairstyle for the funeral. Despite the more than generous amount of money that goes against it, Pat points out Mr. Shanrock the door. He doesn’t feel like granting his former client’s last wish.

In some flashbacks, which feel like real memories of Pat, we get that Pat used to be a lot happier. He had a friend, David; he performed in drag as Mr. Pat at a gay bar in Sandusky, Ohio, he was a respected barber. He was also very sad: David died of AIDS and his family left Pat empty-handed after the death of his loved one.

It comes as no surprise that Pat takes the plunge anyway and decides to take the job. However, the way in which he does this is unique and not at all practical. But through this road trip we get to know Pat and his past better. We understand why he initially declines the assignment and sympathize with him as he relives some of his glory days.

‘Swan Song’ is based on the phenomenal acting performance of Udo Kier, who may well play the part of his life here. Although director and screenwriter Todd Stephens (himself born in Sandusky) wrote the story with Gene Wilder in mind, the role is tailor-made for the acting legend. Every second that he is in the picture, he draws all the attention to himself. He is Pat Pitsenbarger (who actually existed and was the inspiration for Todds’ script). His mannerisms, his glance, his attitude… and the clothes, oh, the clothes! It’s spot on and thanks to his performance you can’t take your eyes off him. He makes Pat such a layered character that you can’t help but embrace him.

Despite the fact that Udo Kier is such an important part of ‘Swan Song’, the other aspects are also successful. In a fantastic supporting role we see Jennifer Coolidge, who as Dee Dee Dale played an important part in the feud between Pat and Rita. You can regularly catch this actress acting with certain mannerisms, a bit of overacting, but while this would suit this role well, she plays it very subtly. Nice touch: the role of the late Rita is played by Linda “Dynasty” Evans. Other supporting characters are also very good, but they serve the script more. And that is authentic, moving, funny and forms the rock-solid basis of a beautiful ode to bygone times. ‘Swan Song’ has a melancholic undertone. It shows what life is like now for those who have paved the way for today’s LGBTQIA+ community. A wonderful conclusion to Todd Stephens’ Ohio trilogy (but you can safely watch ‘Swan Song’ before you see ‘Edge of Seventeen’ and ‘Gypsy 83’). Definitely recommended!

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