Some people march to a different drummer. Mister Pat sashays.
Not that he’s doing much of either when we first meet him in Swan Song, writer-director Todd Stephens’ sweetly comedic ode to the valiant, out-and-proud pioneers who brought gaiety to small-town America, in more ways than one.
Stephens (Another Gay Movie) returns to the setting of his 1997 screenwriting debut, Edge of Seventeen to focus on Mister Pat Pitsenbarger, retired hair stylist to the stars. Of Sandusky, Ohio.
Alas, a stroke has sidelined Mister Pat (the inimitable, invaluable Udo Kier), relegating him to a life — if you can call it that — of quiet desperation.
Sneaking smokes in his nursing home, Mister Pat seems semi-resigned to his current state of semi-suspended animation.
Until he learns that most illustrious client — Sandusky grand dame Rita Parker Sloan (none other than Dynasty diva Linda Evans) — has departed for that big charity ball in the sky. Her dying wish? To have Mister Pat style her hair for her final send-off.
Thus begins Mister Pat’s return to Sandusky, where he finds things have inevitably changed — and that he hasn’t changed as much as he thought.
Despite the years (and, as Indiana Jones once ruefully observed, the mileage), Mister Pat discovers reserves of inner fabulousness waiting to emerge, whether he’s facing off against the former protege (Jennifer Coolidge) who stole his clients or revisiting his favorite drag-show haunt. (Naturally, it’s about to close, fated to be replaced by a brew pub.)
He’ll always be “the Liberace of Sandusky,” as one ex-client describes him. But despite Mister Pat’s reconnection with the living, there’s one person forever missing: his lover David, who died of AIDS in 1995, at the height of the global epidemic.
Clearly, Swan Song’s storyline and setting couldn’t be closer to Stephens’ heart. Perhaps that’s why the writer-director mercifully sidesteps broad, cliche-ridden wackiness in favor of quieter, more sensitive observations.
His script, which ranges from bitchy repartee to bittersweet reflection, can’t always escape the melodrama that accompanies Mister Pat’s end-of-the-road ruminations.
But never fear. Udo Kier’s here.
The veteran actor, who’s played everyone from Count Dracula to Adolph Hitler, embraces and embodies Mister Pat with admirable subtlety and irresistible glee. Sharing the deadpan delight he takes in strutting his stuff one last time makes Swan Song a sentimental journey well worth taking.