How good can it feel to have one last dance? The older one gets, the tighter the walls of life become, restricting freedoms as ailments close in. For retired hair stylist Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), this world is very much his reality and it’s a living hell, as he whiles away his days in a care home.
However, when a former friend and wealthy client passes away, Pat sees his opportunity to answer her dying wish to style her hair for her funeral – and bust out of his funk for one final day of raucous fun. Taking a long walk across Sandusky, Ohio, Pat relieves his memories, both traumatic and blissful, meeting new and old faces along the way and rediscovering the man he used to be in his last hurrah.
Udo Kier is simply magnificent as Pat Pitsenbarger, breathing life, cigarette smoke and soul into a role so flamboyant he simply bursts off the screen with delight, all the while still showing a flicker of hurt in his aged eyes at how life has flashed by. His moving performance proves to be the standout element, in presentation, delivery and as a vital plot mechanism that carries the narrative forward. There are some liberties taken in the storytelling, but in this instance that’s ok because the film works best when it allows Kier to work his magic alone, with each passing scene proving a passenger on the Udo Kier show.
It is a long and winding journey that writer/director Todd Stephens has set out to deliver in Swan Song, and it could be difficult to spice up a tale about an old man travelling to do a dead person’s hair, but casting Kier (who’s not often tasked with carrying the leading role) proves to be a stroke of genius. Yes, the film is as, its title suggests, a “swan song” for its lead, but it is just as much a rebirth. The viewer sits back in awe at Pat’s transformation from self-pitying care home resident to fabulous socialite, and his wardrobe follows suit, with his tracksuit and trainers steadily being replaced by glorious outfits gifted by friends from the past.
A few dodgy pieces of dialogue aside, the symbolism here is simple, yet present throughout every fibre of the production. It is humorous while remaining serious, but the balance is just about right. The plot itself might be a little thin, but the overall message is a poignant one that reminds us all to enjoy life while we can and never change who we are, even if time suggests we should.
Swan Song is released in select cinemas on 10th June 2022.
Watch the trailer for Swan Song here: