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Udo Kier Gives An Unforgettable Performance in “Swan Song” (Review)

Todd Stephens wrote, produced, and directed this new drama starring legendary German actor Udo Kier that had its world premiere earlier this year at the virtual edition of the SXSW festival.

Older members of the LGBTQ+ community are not often given a chance to tell their stories or see themselves represented in popular culture, so it’s a real treat to see Kier absolutely eat up every inch of the screen as Pat Pitsenbarger, an aging gay man who is miserably spending his final days trapped in a nursing home facility in Sandusky, Ohio.

In a tale that is thankfully not as common now, we learn that Pat’s long term partner David had passed away in the 90s due to complications from AIDS. At that time, before queer people could get married, many couples did not have legal protections. He lost the home that they shared together because of a battle with David’s family members who clearly did not want to acknowledge their life together.

A visit to the nursing home from the same lawyer who helped his partner’s family take his home ruffles his feathers, but it turns out that the city’s biggest socialite, Rita Parker Sloan, has passed away and asked for Pat to do her hair and makeup for the funeral in her will.

At the height of his career, Pat was the area’s best-known and most-loved hairdresser, doing the hairdos for all of Sandusky’s socialites. In fact, he is described for a former customer as “the Liberace of Sandusky.” Rita was one of his biggest clients, until she wasn’t. Their falling out was apparently bitter, but Rita’s will offers a pretty penny to complete this task and it leads to Pat sneaking out of the nursing home and headed for one last hurrah.

Kier, who is openly gay and has starred in countless films from provocateurs like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Lars Von Trier, brings an incredible power and dignity to this performance. Pat is incredibly eccentric and probably OCD, but never presented as a caricature.

We also get comedy queen Jennifer Coolidge performing against type as Dee Dee, Pat’s nemesis who had formerly worked for him but ended up opening her own shop and destroying his own in the process. The supporting cast also features memorable moments from Michael Urie and former “Dynasty” star Linda Evans as Rita, who gets one brief, but lovely confrontational dream-like scene.

Stephens’ film wears its low budget on its sleeve and the pacing is not as tight as it could be, but there is a charm and power to the story being told that transcends its limitations.

“Swan Song” Is playing now in select theaters nationwide and is available for rental or purchase from all digital providers.

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