Swan Song [SXSW Review]

Udo Kier gives the best performance of his long, distinguished career in Swan Song. The actor, often cast as heavies or villains, plays a sorrowful man who gradually returns to his authentic self after an important person from his past dies. Pat Pitsenbarger was once the hottest hairstylist in Sandusky, Ohio, taking care of all the town's socialites. Now he's in a nursing home, spending his days fighting off boredom by meticulously folding paper napkins he swipes from the cafeteria.

Pat receives a visit from an attorney one day. His former star client, Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans), has died. In her will, she requested that Pat do her hair for the viewing. Despite a rather large stipend being offered, Pat doesn't want to do it. After all, Rita ended their relationship by abandoning him and taking her business to his pupil, Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge), after the latter opened up her own salon. He's never forgiven her for that. Eventually, the boredom of the nursing home weighs on Pat sufficiently that he decides to escape, walk into town, and fulfill Rita's dying wish.

Swan Song is intentionally episodic in nature. The movie follows Pat as he runs around Sandusky attempting to acquire the elusive hair product Rita always preferred. Along the way, he interacts with different people who have varying reactions to him. He returns to the drag bar he used to frequent, gets a fancy suit from a boutique owner who remembers him from back in the day, and so on. Each encounter helps him reclaim a bit of himself – a man who is out, proud, and confident. Pat even takes the opportunity to finally confront Dee Dee over her betrayal.

Kier really brings this character to life. He begins Swan Song by playing Pat with a flat, lethargic personality. As the story progresses, he adds layer upon layer of color and spark. By the end, Pat is a fully vibrant figure. The actor makes that transformation authentic. Writer/director Todd Stephens based the character on a real person. Between the anecdotes that influenced the screenplay and Kier's nuanced work, Pat Pitsenbarger is someone you will definitely want to spend 105 minutes with.

Some scenes run on a little too long, and the movie might have benefitted from additional plot structure. You can't deny the pleasure of watching Udo Kier take Pat from depressed to joyful, though. Swan Song is a sweet, touching movie with an important message – namely, that it's never too late to find yourself again.

out of four

Swan Song is unrated, but contains adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.