Grade: 3.5 / 5.0
There is a moment in the refreshing “Schwanengesang” when Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), an old queen who used to do the hair of urban celebrities, is shocked by the sight in front of him: two fathers, married, with their children. “What on earth? Dads with their babies?” The scene could sound sticky nostalgic or chilly modern, but screenwriter and director Todd Stephens won’t let it. Instead, Pat says without judgment, “I don’t even know how to be gay anymore is, ”before he leaves,“ to make a dead slut look human, ”he says.
Stephens’ film gives New Queer Cinema a new take on the 21st century. Carried by Kier’s ability to switch from vulnerability to cheek, “swan song” implies that queer people can be assimilated (think “Call Me By Your Name”) while the house is still being burned down – comedy, spunk and everything. The adventure, which consists almost entirely of frames with kier (he is a delight), is worth it, but the hunt remains unsuccessful. “Swan Song” seeks compromises, but cannot completely satisfy either of the two perspectives.
In Swan Song, Pat is offered $ 25,000 to travel from his nursing home to Sandusky, an Ohio town just a stone’s throw away, with a welcome sign to advertise its most successful high school athlete. His job is to come out of retirement to prepare “a sophisticated Republican monster,” once his best client, for her funeral. (Entombment in a huge and opulent mausoleum might have been more appropriate.)
Pat first tells the executor to “bury her with bad hair,” but he comes by after a sleepless night – itchy writing that turns into a full blown rash as Pat ends in one after an outbreak and a trip back in time Gay bar who lost it to Robyn. His walk, which takes place on a sultry summer afternoon, is reminiscent of pieces from a historical past. The film reveals Pat’s past, like the memories of his partner who died of AIDS, piecemeal, but like the film, he’s never infested with bigotry.
When his mind isn’t preoccupied by his ex-partner, he turns to Vivante, once his shampoo of choice and where to find it, eventually leading him to a Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge, potent in the small time) salon it is assigned). His protégé turned nemesis, Coolidge’s Dee Dee across from Kier’s Pat, is ripe for those campy moments where two actors have a ball while their characters circling each other and extending their fangs. The past haunts Pat, but the moment is a party for Kier, Coolidge, and us.
It becomes clear that Pat is a nostalgic person, but the movie itself isn’t. It’s decidedly modern and its lead has both timeless cheek and melancholy. Pat wastes time being on time, and “Swan Song” shows us where that is leading him: Decay in the nursing home, his disrespect is reduced to disobedience to his nurse, his extravagance is swallowed up by a gray tracksuit. As he ventures further outside of the nursing home, which is literally an old age prison, he is rejuvenated by youth and modernity; Stephens refuses to reject the concept of queer acceptance in the mainstream.
That doesn’t mean that “Schwanengesang” isn’t ready to break the rules as early as possible. The stuffy and poorly lit corridors of the nursing home are withdrawn until Pat returns to his splendor, which puts an end to posterity and rationality. Stephens writes scenes that recognize a lingering past and tries to thread the needle.
Suddenly the film has its feet in both shoes, which could just as easily consist of flip-flops and stilettos. While “Swan Song” withstands a blow from Stephens’ occasionally clichéd script, it is overwhelmed by a blow of cinematography and score that are functional. The latter two are comfortable with complacency and unsure which direction to go with an indecisive script, noisy as it is. The film makes the mistake that Simone Biles was too clever for: jump in the air, then, on the head, question. In other words, an ankle twists on landing.
Hobbled “Swan Song” wobbles between both angles and crashes. The film suggests that the revolution would be way too reminiscent of the ’90s, even though half of its minds are rooted in that sensibility. Rain or sunshine, “swan song” would get us on our way. Until we croak.
Dominic Marziali covers the film. Contact him at [email protected].