It is a known fact that actresses over 40, and definitely over 50, have a difficult time finding quality roles in the realm of Hollywood. While male actors can play romantic leads even in their 60's and 70's (Clint Eastwood and Warren Beatty spring immediately to mind), there is a double standard that proves middle-aged woman don't have half the chance. Because of this crutch, it might be easy to forget how very good some of them were, and still are, if only given the chance to shine.
"The Banger Sisters," written and directed by Bob Dolman, is not a great movie. It is decidedly cliched on the screenplay level and uneven in its handling of the characters, some of which aren't given nearly enough screen time to develop fully developed personalities. What the film does make an indelible point in demonstrating, however, is just how engaging, sexy, and funny female characters outside of the 18-35 age bracket have the ability to still possess.
Suzette (Goldie Hawn) and Lavinia (Susan Sarandon) were once the best of friends, infamous rock groupies who delighted in the sex, drugs, and music culture of the time period. Twenty years later, things have changed. While the vivacious Suzette still desperately clings to the kind of lifestyle she once lead, she is given a harsh reality check when she is fired from her longtime job as a bartender at the hard rock nightspot, Whiskey-A-Go-Go. Broke and with no one to turn to, Suzette sets off for Phoenix, where Lavinia, whom she has not seen in years, has settled down into the straight-laced wife of a lawyer (Robin Thomas) and mother to two spoiled teenage daughters, Hannah (Erika Christensen) and Ginger (Eva Amurri). Following an initial confrontation in which Lavinia makes it perfectly clear she does not want her past life exposed to her unsuspecting family, Suzette is a too-tempting reminder of Lavinia's long bottled-up true self.
Goldie Hawn (2001's "Town & Country
") is the flame that burns brightest in "The Banger Sisters." The movie is worth seeing for Hawn alone, and this is, by far, the juiciest role she has been blessed with in ages. As the wild, extroverted Suzette whose insecurities in life have begun to bubble just beneath the surface, the spectacular-looking Hawn relishes every frame she is onscreen, exhibiting crackerjack comic timing and a truthful reality to her aging persona.
Pairing Hawn with Susan Sarandon (1999's "Anywhere But Here
") was a masterstroke on the casting director's part, as they both work so fluidly together that it is immediately believable that they are old best buddies rekindling the spark they once had together. Sarandon has never given anything less than a focused performance, and "The Banger Sisters" is no exception, even when her character of Lavinia has a too-sudden change in the second half, reverting back to her once-edgy ways.
The central premise is so solid, particularly due to Hawn and Sarandon, that a subplot involving an eccentric, depressed screenwriter named Harry (Geoffrey Rush) that Suzette picks up on her way to Phoenix seems extraneous. While there are some sparklingly funny moments between Goldie Hawn and Geoffrey Rush (1999's "House on Haunted Hill
"), their budding relationship takes up far too much time at the onset when the film should be getting to the reunion of Suzette and Lavinia.
Director Bob Dolman spices up his unfocused screenplay with wickedly funny and surprisingly explicit dialogue and visual humor. Getting to hear Hawn speak her mind about her past and present sexual escapades are a treat, and fleshes Suzette out as an uncensored force to be reckoned with.
As Lavinia's pampered daughters, Erika Christensen (2002's "Swimfan
") and Sarandon's real-life offspring Eva Amurri do much more with their undernourished roles than was required by the writing. Less successful is Robin Thomas (2002's "Clockstoppers
") who, as Lavinia's husband, remains more of a spectator than a participant in the goings-on. Thomas is never allowed to give the viewer as sense of who his character is, and what his feelings are concerning Lavinia's past and future.
Despite a need for some tightening in its finished screenplay, "The Banger Sisters" is a refreshing comedic outing because its outrageousness and candid attitude are at the service of two vital, extraordinary leading ladies and quite a few emotional truths. The film doesn't necessarily lead up to much in the long run, but being in the company of Hawn and Sarandon at the top of their games for 98 minutes never once wears out its welcome.
©2002 by Dustin Putman