The irresistible “Swan Song” is a crowd-pleasing celebration of the joy of being yourself, and a homage to the rapidly disappearing small town gay culture. Writer / director Todd Stephens based his film on a real person that he knew growing up in Sandusky, Ohio: local hairdresser, drag performer, and gay icon known as Mister Pat. Stephens wears his heart on his sleeve with this project, and it shows. This is a delightful film from beginning to end.
Confined to a nursing home for years, Pat (Udo Kier) has all but given up on life. He spends his days folding napkins and dozing off in his recliner, and has become a shell of his flamboyant former self. An unexpected visit from an attorney with news of a recent death turns things around, as Pat gets word that his most important former client’s dying wish was for him to style her hair and makeup so she’d look beautiful in her coffin. At first he declines, but a little spark is ignited in Pat and he breaks out of his nursing home and sets off on foot to the funeral home to give a final hairdo to his high society friend’s corpse.
It’s a great idea for a road movie of sorts, as Pat traverses his small town and encounters interesting locals along the way. He takes the time to look back on his life, reflecting on fond (and not-so-happy) memories as he revisits places and people from his past. You could say Pat “rediscovers his sparkle” by celebrating the act of living after being down in the dumps for so many years. We learn his history and relive the glory days, sharing his elation, sadness, and confusion over how much the world has changed. It’s an epic personal journey that’s touching, funny, and melancholy.
Kier is terrific as Pat, and he portrays a gamut of emotions with an impressive ease. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the lead character, and you’ll be rooting for him the entire way.
“Swan Song” is the type of uplifting film that opens doors for acceptance and discussions on the homosexual experience in America, particularly in small towns. This is something the world could use more of, and this enjoyable little movie has the perfect ratio of heartwarming and bittersweet. It’s a real charmer.
By: Louisa Moore