Film Review: ‘Swan Song’ (2021) – MANIFF 2022

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Stars: Udo Kier, Jennfier Coolidge, Linda Evans
Director: Todd Stephens
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

“I’m surprised you still remember me.”

The best film from the opening weekend of MANIFF 2022, writer-director Todd Stephens presents veteran Udo Kier with the stage to perform a career best performance, dripping in the spectacular and flamboyance.

A retired hairdresser from the city of Sandusky, OH, the once famed Pat Pitsenberger has regressed to a care home recluse – though a rule-breaker – whose forbidden and hidden pleasure of the cigar is the last reminiscence of his flamboyant old self. 

A former client, Rita Sloan (Linda Evans) – the most glamorous and famous lady in town – has it as her dying wish to have her funeral hair fixed by none other than Pat Pitsenberger. Gifted with this shot at redemption, and a cheque of $25,000 after probate, Pat breaks free from the restraints of the nursing home and seeks to rediscover the town and life he left behind. 

Swan Song, at first, is a tragically dismal film. Whilst Pat is still a resident of the nursing home, there is an eary and overwhelming presence of blandness from the audience POV. To an extent, the accurate projection of nursing home life is a successful tragedy. However, once Pat escapes, not only does he begin to reclaim his vibe, the overall look of the film, the cinematography, all transcend into something much brighter and exciting. A little bit of sunshine and the tempo increases. 

Pat journeying throughout Sandusky, a town in which he was expertly familiar with, seems to parallel the idea of a stranger looking at another stranger, but with a brief familiarity. Pat never really left, he only moved into a nursing home. So much development has occurred in his time away – his former home demolished – he’s become a stranger in a strange land. Connecting with and bumping into both strange and comedic-ish characters, in conjunction with bizarre locations too, Swan Song establishes itself as a slight road movie. 

A progression and transformation from nursing home misery to utter flamboyance, the story of Pat Pitsenberger can be read as a rags to riches story. Historically, Pat was the man, but we never see this. We never see his initial downfall, which, going by significant dates mentioned within the film, must have happened in the 90s. Instead, we are treated with a redemption fit for a king, or queen. 

This wonderful story and the extravagant nature of it is only possible with Udo Kier. He is fantastic. An extraordinarily camp performance. Comedic and excellent. Those dazzling eyes and wonderful German accent are spectacles in their own right within this truly special performance. However, not the only performance of note, Jennifer Coolidge presents herself as Pat’s former protege-turned-rival, Dee Dee Williams. Dee, now the biggest name in the hairdressing game, has all the sass one would naturally expect, but like Udo’s Pat, she too has an innocent and vulnerable presence hidden way underneath the outlandish exterior. 

Shot on location in Sandusky for the entirety of the production, visionary Stephen Todd has opened the door to the town in which he grew up in, where Pat was indeed a local figure. Under Todd’s creative vision and touching story, Swan Song is an LGBT drama of fascinating quality. A film that gets wilder when you least expect, and a film that offers emotional support when it’s needed most.  

Swan Song had its Manchester premiere at MANIFF 2022 on Sunday 13th March.

4 Stars


For John.

This article’s featured image: By Source,, Fair Use 

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