Review: ‘Swan Song’ gives you Udo Kier and Robyn. What more do you need?

Udo Kier in “Swan Song”
Udo Kier in “Swan Song.”
(Chris Stephens / Magnolia Pictures)

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With more than 200 credits across seven decades, Udo Kier has long been a fixture in European and Hollywood films, but “Swan Song” gives the German actor a chance to step into the leading man spotlight. In Todd Stephens’ gentle comedy, Kier stars as Pat Pitsenbarger, based on a real-life, larger-than-life hairdresser who was far too big for his Sandusky, Ohio, home.

When we meet him, Pat’s days of hairstyling the small town’s upper crust are long over as he languishes in a quiet retirement home. His caustic wit remains sharp, even if his scissors aren’t getting much use. His greatest joy comes from a snuck, shared cigarette to break up the monotony within the convalescent green walls.


Then a lawyer (Tom Bloom) reveals the final wish of Pat’s longtime client and friend Rita (Linda Evans): for Pat to do her hair and makeup for her funeral. Pat walks and hitchhikes his way to the funeral home, assembling the supplies to make Rita look as lovely as she did in life and gathering remnants of his formerly glamorous self — someone he still could be.

“Swan Song” recalls the glittery vibes of “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” particularly in its fish-out-of-water road trip and a drag show scene featuring a marvelously improvised headdress and Robyn’s eternal banger “Dancing on My Own.” But Sandusky native Stephens imbues “Swan Song” with a shabby charm all its own, coupled with emotional resonance born of both the story’s basis in the writer-director’s own experience and Kier’s touching performance.

The story examines love, grief and connection in the gay community, and Kier gives a nuanced turn to match, nailing comedic and touching scenes alike. A little too broad at times, “Swan Song” smartly balances its excesses with small, sweet moments that leave an impression on the audience just as significant as Pat’s imprint on Sandusky.

'Swan Song'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Starts Aug. 6, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena; also available on demand Aug. 13