swan song

Udo Kier in "Swan Song."

They say it's not over until the fat lady sings. Well, what about when a retired hairdresser dances around to Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" with a chandelier on his head?

As we see in Todd Stephens' electrifying "Swan Song," not even that can take down our fabulous protagonist, Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), who escapes his nursing home and goes on one last adventure to style a dead woman's hair.

From start to finish "Swan Song" absolutely delights. Back in his heyday, Pat was the top hairdresser in a small town, and he styled all the big names. He was once known as the “Liberace of Sandusky,” which really tells you everything you need to know about him.

But things have changed since those days, and today Pat sits inside a drab nursing home in his gray sweatpants, hiding his smokes from the staff.

One day, he learns that one of his former clients, Rita Parker Sloan, has passed away, and she insisted in her will that Pat be the one to style her hair for the funeral (insisting even more with a $25,000 payment). That sets our unlikely hero off on his quest through his former town and its changed landscape.

Throughout the film, audiences learn tidbits from Pat's life, and the more time we spend with him, we start to see the old Pat return, full of sequin, pops of color and fabulous hats. He returns to the site of his old home that he shared with his partner, David, who died from AIDS and who Pat continues to see flashbacks of throughout his journey. He runs into his former assistant-turned-rival, played by Jennifer Coolidge, who led to the destruction of his business after she opened her hair studio right across the street from his. That interaction gives us just a glimpse into how feisty this 70-something year old can really be. 

But the true heart and soul of this movie is set inside a drag bar, one that Pat and David helped open up, and that Pat now sees on its final night before it becomes a craft beer micro-pub. Time can be unfair, and change sometimes isn't always for the best, and Pat has to grapple with both inside a place that used to be like a second home for him, where he danced the nights away and was his free self.

So what does our hero do? Have that one last dance and showstopping performance in full color, sparkle and shine. This is the Pat we've been waiting to see, and Kier does it in full force. If up until this point you weren't sure about this movie (although there was plenty to enjoy), this is the moment where everything changes. Sparks fly for Pat (literally), and he brings light back into this drag bar and his own life.

Kier has been in plenty of movies — more than 200 of them — but "Swan Song" is all his. He commands each scene and leads us through his beautiful self in 105 minutes. When it comes time for him to make his hairstyling appointment at the funeral, he's fully transformed and sure of himself, his emotions and skills. There are plenty of fun and sassy moments, but his emotional performance is one to applaud, as he finally goes back to see a life that once was and all the good and bad moments associated with it. Kier was made for this role and absolutely no one could have done it better.

The definition of silly, a good time while also deeply moving, "Swan Song" gives it its all and goes out in the only way it knows how: fabulously.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.