There have been numerous people that I regarded as friends along this journey of life and was surprised when the definition of those friendships were viewed very different from each party involved. One so-called “friend” literally shared confidential info under the guise of being drunk, others just ceased to call, return calls or had a strange energy over the phone that let me know they did not want to be bothered or didn’t regard or respect me as a friend they way I respected and regarded them. Friendship, like most relationships, is a two-way street and sometimes one side of street has already vacated the premises.
As human beings, we grow, shift and change with age and maturity…and so do our friendships. Some people are friends for life and others for a specific reason or a season, but there is always that one that we hold in higher regard than anyone else. When that friendship is damaged or falls off, even in death we struggle to find a way to reconcile the broken pieces.
Swan Song follows the fantabulous life of real life retired hairdresser Pat Pitsenbarger, who escapes the confines of his Sandusky nursing home after learning his former client’s dying wish was for him to style her final hairdo. Soon, Pat embarks on a journey to confront the ghosts of his past while collecting the beauty supplies necessary for the job.
Infused by music that perfectly represents each chapter of Pat’s colorful life ranging from “The Man That Got Away” to Shirley Horn’s “Here’s to Life” all the way to Melissa Manchester’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” this is one life that was lived in its entirety with little to no regret. It’s not lost on me that Pat’s belongings have been relegated to a hat box under the bed. A fate that falls upon most elderly people who are living their final days in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
It’s also not lost on me, the assumption folks take with our senior citizens. As they grow older, some things are a little fuzzy, but as Miss Pat says., “…sometimes it takes a while but it’s all up there somewhere – when you are older the memory fades but it’s not dead.”
The legendary Udo Keir is absolutely brilliant as The Liberace of Sandusky. His embodiment of Miss Pat reminds me so much of those sparkly, fabulous dolls I have met along the way who are no longer with us, but live on in my heart and my memory. His comic timing is perfection and those moments when Pat’s mind takes him back to the past will resonate with anyone who has sat with an elder and listened to them share stories on repeat. There are many favorite moments from this film, but if I had to pick a few, one would be when Rita Parker-Sloan’s (Linda Evans) grandson Dustin (Michael Urie) shares how much Pat meant to them both. The other, when his nemesis Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge) relents after years of verbal vitriol and complete disrespect, gives Pat a shred of his dignity back as she passes her brush on for him to do his last and final job of making his best friend look beautiful one last time.
Written, Directed and Produced by Todd Stephens, Swan Song is love letter to the rapidly disappearing “gay culture” of America. As it has become more acceptable to be queer, what used to be a thriving community is rapidly melting back into society. Above all else, it is a dedication to all the forgotten flaming florists and hairdressers who built the gay community and blazed the trail for the rights many cling to today. For me, it is also film is about learning that it’s never too late to live again no matter what age you are and how our memories are sometimes that one thing that keeps us alive and thriving through all the pain and disappointment experienced along the way.