The Banger Sisters
review by Cynthia Fuchs, 27 September 2002
tell the truth
are an industry built on a lot of subterfuge and fantasy and
fakery, and I think to tell the truth is brave.
--Jamie Lee Curtis, Dateline, 15 September 2002
Lee Curtis's recent decision to pose for photos
"un-retouched" for the September issue of More
magazine has garnered a flurry of media attention, including an
interview with Dateline's Maria Shriver. (It's no small irony
that Curtis starred with Shriver's famously hard-bodied husband in
1994's True Lies, winning all kinds of "praise" for
her stunningly worked-out figure.) Reportedly, Curtis's "tell
all story" has pushed the magazine's sales toward
"breaking the single issue sales record."
this record-breaking might say -- about admiration or prurience --
Curtis has a clear idea of what she's saying. At forty-three,
she's tired of "playing" the packaging game, and, with no
film roles "on the horizon," is taking her stand against
it, encouraging consumers, especially the kids for whom she's now
written five books, to accept themselves and others for who they
are, however "imperfect." Shriver extols Curtis's courage,
adding, "But the question is whether in the process, she may be
blowing the lid off her career in film."
is the question that keeps the machine running, mainly because so
few people want to ask it, much less answer it. And it's precisely
the sort of question that drives The Banger Sisters, which
purports to be a celebration of women over fifty, casting Susan
Sarandon and Goldie Hawn as former groupies. Rather too cutely,
Hawn's Suzette seems a survivor-version of Penny Lane, the character
her real-life daughter Kate Hudson played to great acclaim in Almost
Famous. Suzette has hung onto her idealism and wardrobe twenty
years, and remembers the '70s fondly, all anti-war politics and
free-love practices, and now tends bar at L.A.'s Whiskey a Go Go.
The Banger Sisters begins, the just-fired,
feeling-desperate-but-still-game Suzette finds herself unable to
trick (it's a younger girls' game), she decides that she'll ask her
old friend and former co-banger Lavinia (Sarandon) for a little
stopgap cash. When her car breaks down, Suzette hitches a ride with
twitchy, neurotic writer Harry (Geoffrey Rush), whom she promptly
beds (her seduction begins like this: "I am such a good
blowjob-giver"), whereupon he turns into a happy, generous
soul. While he remains consistently unbearable in both his
incarnations -- depressive grump or gushing boyfriend -- the
conversion is contrived and abrupt.
magic takes slightly longer to work on Lavinia, now married to
dullsville Phoenix lawyer (Robin Thomas) with two spunky daughters,
Hannah (Erika Christenson) and Ginger (Sarandon's real-life
daughter, Eva Amurri). Worst of all, she's come to favor pert
hairdos and beige suits.
Lavinia is, of course, in dire need of rescue. Suzette's well-timed
grand entrance is initiated by a super-convenient coincidence: she
stumbles on Hannah, bad-acid-tripping on prom night, in the very
hotel where she's staying with Harry. They survive the night, with
Harry looking on with admiring, moist eyes, as Suzette holds
Hannah's pukey face to her bosom and rocks her to sleep. Next AM,
Suzette delivers the errant child to her homestead, startling
Lavinia, who has so deeply repressed her past that she doesn't
recognize her old chum (who looks almost exactly as she did back in
the day), and comes at her with a garden tool.
argue some, then Suzette wangles a dinner invitation. Much to
Lavinia's initial embarrassment and Husband's increasing disdain,
she regales the daughters with tales of mom's rock-concert antics.
Hannah and Ginger can't believe it, giggling over the image of mom
in a mosh pit. They don't trust adults, righteously: the film's most
convincing scene, which, granted, is not saying much, takes place in
Hannah's bedroom, between the girls -- no sputtering or acting out,
just a sensible conversation between two sisters who see their
parents as alien creatures. They're flabbergasted when Suzette
asserts that their prim garden-party-organizing mother "was a
blast. She was a kick-ass girlfriend!"
something charming about Lavinia's resistance, and for a minute,
you're grateful, thinking that the film, at last, is getting over
the stereotypes and move on to something that resembles women's
experiences. For all her efforts to maintain her decorum -- and they
are vigorous -- her family's disbelief that she was ever capable of
such expansive desire, let alone behavior, is too much. She decides
to "go out": she cuts her hair, borrows some un-beige
clothes from Suzette, and goes dancing and drinking, shaking her
booty with the rest of the kids at some Phoenix hot spot. This
reverence for sexual experiences recalled with relish, as well as
not-so-youthful bodies has led some viewers to fret. Middle-aged
women shouldn't be showing cleavage and cameras shouldn't focus on
their backsides. Parents shouldn't be admitting they had sex or
did/do drugs, and they certainly shouldn't be wearing halter tops,
visible bra straps, and faux-lizard pants. For these few minutes, The
Banger Sisters venerates imperfection and adventure.
and rejuvenated, the girls head back home to peruse Lavinia's photo
collection: a series of rock-stars' cocks. They giggle and smoke
some ancient dope, and feel warm and generous -- until the plot
intrudes. Husband discovers them, she talks back, and at last, a
daughter-related crisis brings everyone back together, better people
for having known Suzette.
very clunkiness, so familiar and so reductive, is, here, even worse
than it sounds. First time director Bob Dolman, who wrote Willow
and Far and Away before he wrote this script, connects scenes
in a cursory way, and the trajectory is glaringly obvious, an After
School Special For Adults. Precisely because The Banger Sisters
poses questions about aging -- how women do it, how they resist and
embrace it, how difficult it is to do in front of others -- its
falling short in providing answers to these questions is all the
more disappointing. Lavinia and Suzette probably deserve better.
Sarandon and Hawn definitely do.
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult