“Swan Song” is inspired by a real person, a flamboyant hairdresser that writer-director Todd Stephens knew when he was growing up in Sandusky, Ohio. But sometimes true inspiration doesn’t work. The filmmaker will have something in mind that only he can see and assume that we can see it too, because when he watches his film, he sees a composite of what is on the screen and what is in his memory. We only see the movie.
It turns out that what’s on screen in “Swan Song” is terrible. It’s not nice to report that, because the film seems to be made with love, but love is another something that sometimes doesn’t work.
The film is friendly and well-intentioned, but also sentimental and lifeless. “Swan Song” is a rare movie without a single good scene.
Udo Kier plays an old man in a nursing home recovering from a stroke. He seems depressed until one day a lawyer comes in with news: one of the barber’s former clients, his all-time favourite, a wealthy lady he adored and admired, has passed away, and as a last request she wants him to do her hair. before the funeral.
The film’s story continues from there: Will he or won’t he do her hair? That’s intriguing, isn’t it? I’m sure your mind is racing: ‘Maybe he’s doing her hair! Then again, maybe he not! Oh no, and what could happen then? She wouldn’t be found dead with bad hair! Will she be caught dead with bad hair?”
In other words, nothing happens in ‘Swan Song’. And just to be clear, it’s not that nothing big or flashy is happening. On the contrary, nothing essential or transformative happens to the central character. He just goes back to his hometown and has a series of conversations with people, reminiscing about past traumas. At other times, he meets new people and bores them with faded glory that no one cares about. He also bores us.
The only thing that’s almost interesting here is the way Kier handles this awful script. While the hairdresser bores people, Kier shows us that he know he is boring people. So when he is silent, he seems to cover his shame with the remnants of a natural dignity. The barber is reduced from what he once was and he knows it, and in such fleeting moments there is a glimpse of what the film was meant to be, a ruminant about inevitable decay. But Stephens has nothing new to say in this sense and, worse, he doesn’t say it well.
Jennifer Coolidge (“Legally Blonde”, “American Pie”) appears in two scenes, as the town’s rival hairdresser, and even she’s not funny. But she does remind us that she can play drama, and maybe one day she will be a good one.
Linda Evans (“Dynasty”) plays the dead lady, but she gets to climb out of the coffin once for a conversation that, like so many here, sounds like something out of Second City Television’s old “Sammy Maudlin Show.”
How do you make a movie without a single scene ending well by accident? In this way, “Swan Song” may be worth future study. Suffice it to say, you can walk into “Swan Song” anytime, watch for two minutes, and know there’s nothing to see here.
k“Swan song”: Drama. Starring Udo Kier and Jennifer Coolidge. Directed by: Todd Stephens. (Unrated. 105 minutes.) In Bay Area theaters beginning Friday, Aug. 6 and streaming on video on demand Aug. 13.