Swan Song is a movie that manages to leave your heart feeling both heavy and light. The movie is a perfect blend of comedy and tragedy, making you smile and cry at the same time.
When the movie begins we follow our main character Pat Pitsenbarger’s grey and mundane life at a nursing home. He is an old man who once lived a flamboyant life as a legendary hairdresser and renowned bar performer, but is now tucked away in a nursing home with the most exciting parts of his day stemming from the cigarettes he manages to secretly smoke.
His routine is disrupted when he is asked to do the funeral hair and makeup of former client Rita Parker. Bearing a grudge against her, Pat refuses and says, “Bury her with bad hair.”
Despite his initial refusal we ultimately see Pat breaking out of the prison-like confines of his nursing home and making his way across town in a journey to fulfill Rita’s last wish.
This movie is sad and bittersweet, and almost wistful and melancholic. There are many touching and sad scenes throughout the film. We follow Pat as he remembers loved ones who have passed on, including his lover and partner, David who died of AIDS.
Pat spends time with an old friend named Eunice, asking her, “Who will remember us?” Pat realizes that no matter how brilliantly you may shine, you will eventually become someone’s memory and be forgotten. But Eunice reassures Pat of the impact he has left on the world, particularly on the gay community.
A particular scene that stood out to me was near the beginning of the movie when Pat does the hair of a fellow resident from his nursing home. As he runs his fingers through her hair, it’s a gesture that seems intimate, kind, and loving. The sweet and soft music playing in the background only serves to add to and enhance the gentleness and beauty of the scene. Pat says a single word, “beautiful,” when he finishes her hairstyle and she smiles at him.
That is a part of Pat’s legacy. People have a desire to look and feel beautiful. Pat manages to fulfill that desire by making his clients’ hair look stunning. Through his work as a hairdresser Pat manages to do more than make his clients look and feel beautiful — he convinces them that they are beautiful.
Interspersed with the sentimental and melancholy scenes and dialogue are humour and laughter. These are scenes that had me smiling at the ridiculousness and wit of what was being said and done. A funny scene that is memorable to me is when Pat has a confrontation with a former (and perhaps current) rival and pupil of his who had stolen Rita away as a client from him.
Pat brags about how he was begged by an attorney to fulfill Rita’s dying wish to have her funeral hair and makeup done by him. He wryly remarks that, “In death, Rita remembered that she had taste.” In retort his rival snaps, “Taste or dementia?”
While the movie was quite excellent, there were definitely moments when the movie seemed to stretch on and I found myself shifting around and glancing at the time. I felt that the story and some certain scenes could have moved along at a faster pace. But ultimately Swan Song was a beautiful movie that made me laugh and cry; I would strongly recommend this movie!
If you’re interested in watching Swan Song, it will be opening at the Princess Theatre in Edmonton on September 10.