Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Swan Song, or: Split Ends and All

It’s fascinating to me that we could watch any film that takes us anywhere in the world during free for all month on the Collab…and we’ve ended up in Ohio. Sandusky, specifically–not far from where I would vacation with my family on Lake Erie. I have to say my experiences in the area are quite different than those of our leading character, which is to my regret in many ways.

The Film:

Swan Song

The Premise:

Asked to style a former client’s hair one last time for her funeral, once iconic hairstylist Pat must put aside old small-town grudges…or not.

The Ramble:

Once the life of the party as a hairdresser and drag queen in small-town Ohio, local legend Pat now lives a quiet and monotonous existence. Now cared for in assisted living, the ornery Pat’s only joy is the occasional secret cigarette.

An older man with white hair stands in a convenience store, smoking.

Pat’s routine is disrupted by the appearance of a lawyer and old acquaintance who represents a former client, Rita Parker Sloan. Now deceased, it was evidently in Rita’s will that Pat would do her hair and makeup for the funeral. Pat is less than flattered as the two had a falling out years ago when Rita ditched him for a rival stylist. Always one to hold a grudge, Pat declines the opportunity and the money that comes along with it in favor of allowing Rita to be buried with bad hair.

As Pat reflects on his life and loved ones from his past, he feels inclined to venture to Sandusky to style Rita’s hair one final time. Since he’s too proud to ask for help, Pat escapes from assisted living and begins the walk. With very little money to spare, Pat prioritizes tracking down his preferred old school cigarettes and vintage styling product, Vivante.

An older man wearing a mint green suit sits on a park bench next to a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

Along his journey, Pat discovers many of the buildings and landmarks that were once familiar have changed. This includes the gay bar where Pat performed in drag, which is set to close after one final night. He encounters helpful strangers, familiar faces, and hostile frenemies. It gradually unravels that Pat once had a partner, David, who died of AIDS. Because they had no legal connection, David’s nephew inherited everything. On top of all this, Pat’s prodigy Dee Dee started her own business across the street from his salon, stealing Rita as a client.

An older man wearing a gray tracksuit and a pink hat stands in a beauty salon, looking forlorn.

So barbs will absolutely be exchanged when the two encounter each other. Will Pat make it to the funeral home in time or will the chance to throw shade overrule all other priorities?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I appreciated this one more upon second viewing, having watched this perhaps some time in 2021? Time means nothing. I will say that my biggest problem with it was that, based on the trailer, this should have been much more fun–and I do stand by that. This leans more heavily into drama than comedy, despite Pat’s sharp comebacks being the best moments in my opinion.

I find the film’s inability to explore themes & messaging fully a bit unsatisfactory as well. There are a lot of issues addressed here, but most of these skim the surface before bouncing on to the next idea. The community as well as isolation of small-town life, changes in the identity and experiences of LGBTQ folks over time, the decay of rust belt cities, memory, the sorrows of aging, the erasure of spaces for the gay community,–there are so many ideas that are interesting but don’t feel fully developed.

As a portrait of and tribute to the character of Pat, our film is rather uneven. While he does manage to get his groove back and have one last hurrah, much of the film follows the character’s enormous sense of loss, including of his own sense of style and identity. Pat is often very silent and stoic, though his past seems to have involved a lot of glitter and eye shadow. When we get glimpses of his formerly sassy self, these are among my favorite moments.

And though this is a relatively minor quibble, it did annoy me that almost everyone Pat encountered (except, kind of sadly, the people who knew him the best & longest) was excessively kind, going out of their way to help him in a lot of situations. I think the director wanted to disrupt some of the narratives about small-town bigotry, but it still struck me as unlikely and a bit sinister (chalk it up to all of the horror we watch to some degree). Pat also just had so much luck getting exactly the amount of money he needed by chance that it became somewhat unbelievable.

I do massively appreciate Udo Kier’s performance, and it’s a refreshing story and character study not often explored in film. Some greater time spent focusing in on and exploring ideas here probably would have made more of an impact for me.

Would my blog wife keep this one looking fresh with old school styles or let it rot in the grave with split ends? Read her review to find out!


2 thoughts on “Swan Song, or: Split Ends and All”

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