Bravo to all involved
SWAN SONG (SXSW 2021)
Swan Song is the definition of “let it build.” It was a film that had me thinking about tapping the big white X in the first 10 minutes, but by the end had given me goosebumps and left my eyes brimming with tears.
Written and directed by Todd Stephens, it’s a slow burn of a film that starts clinical, quiet, and lifeless in its retirement home setting. Stephens allows the film to build slowly before it bursts into a powerful and fulfilling crescendo in the final act. Allowing it to flow naturally, the story and change in tones happens gently as we follow Pat in his journey. Utilising flashback without being intrusive or expositional, he balances the wonderful tightrope of witty one-liners with deeply melancholic themes and introspective conversations.
Pat lives in a retirement home, having at some point suffered from a stroke. When a lawyer visits him to say an old client has requested he do her hair for her funeral in her will, Pat has to make a choice. So starts a wonderful trip as he escapes the home and revisits his past life, finding shadows where he once had memories.
It takes a while to kick in, with the plot being solidly linked to Pat’s character and his development of finding himself. As Pat is able to find his old self, so the film's plot finds its direction and momentum, perfectly paced.
Themes of redemption and forgiveness are throughout, whilst touching upon the indignities many gay couples faced during their youth. It highlights the progress that has been made as well as the bravery of the trail blazers who helped it happen.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Udo Kier is phenomenal as aged hairdresser Pat. Watching his journey throughout the film, Kier is clearly relishing every moment of screen time in a brave, bold, and flamboyant performance by the end. He embodies every emotion, and as we watch him rediscover his old life, Kier is able to become more free with each scene, in every movement, and with each added ring.
Likewise, it’s a wonderful supporting cast with everyone bringing their top form, but none more than Jennifer Coolidge as an old mentee turned enemy. It’s so lovely to see her bite into a meatier role, despite only really appearing in two scenes. She’s outstanding and reminds us of why she’s managed to stay in the industry for as long as she has. I also loved Michael Urie’s performance, again only in two scenes, but he has some of the most poignant lines and gives the film an extra coating of love and heart.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
It’s all about the costume in Swan Song. Watching Pat emerge from the changing rooms in his gorgeous pastel pant suit, seeing him sashay away in a peach church hat, and the headdresses in the bar scene. Bravo to the costuming team for relishing in the detail, down to every small ring.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
What a mixture. Incredibly emotional and mood driven music choices, at times upbeat and exhilarating, at other times haunting and melancholic. It’s beautiful, never feels cheap or forceful, and complements the emotion on screen perfectly.
By the closing credits, I was blown away by Swan Song. I found myself moved to tears more than once through joy, through sorrow, and everything in between. Bravo to all involved, as it is a wonderful piece of film.