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Kate Hudson, Oscar-nominated for her randy turn as Almost Famous’ most sought after “Band-Aid,” came along three decades too late to take on the plum part of The Banger Sisters’ Suzette, a middle-age groupie pathetically clinging to her rock ‘n’ roll fantasies. So the logical choice, of course, is Hudson’s mom, 56-year-old Goldie Hawn. Basically playing Penny Lane all grown-up, Hawn, who hasn’t had a worthy gig since 1992’s Death Becomes Her, flaunts a leather-and-laced near-60 body that swears it’s only 29. And with her chemically puffed lips looking like chubby pink slugs oozing across her suspicious chin, Hawn’s real-life alteration gives her fictional counterpart more than a hint of youth-grasping desperation. Suzette, you could say, is the role that Hudson was born so her mother could play.
Guzzling booze, chain-smoking cigs, and offering a handjob to any dude who looks her way, Hawn’s wayward Suzette adds surprising heft to writer-director Bob Dolman’s otherwise fluffy and plot-weak chick flick about a pair of friends who “rattled” most of the rockers on Sunset Strip and have since moved in separate directions. Well, Suzette hasn’t gone that far, at all: Barely dressed in candy-colored baby Ts and black pleather pants, she still slings booze at the infamous Whisky a Go-Go and ogles the 20-something boys in the bands. Her onetime partner in shagging, however, has primly broken with the past (and, for that matter, her friend) and moved to a tony Phoenix suburb, where she spends her ho-hum days doting on her bratty teenage daughters and yes-dearing her starchy lawyer husband.
Played by Susan Sarandon—who mastered her own version of Suzette as Bull Durham’s baseball-worshipping Annie Savoy—the lesser-role Lavinia has a closet crammed with beige pantsuits, a safe Martha Stewart ‘do, a talent for monochromatic interior design, and not much else. Her biggest concern these days is how her oldest daughter (Erika Christensen) will wear her hair to the prom. She’s bored as hell, and Sarandon often seems a wee bit bored playing her. But Lavinia’s drab, dreary life gets a sassy burst of color (and colorful language) when Suzette gets fired from her bartending gig and decides to fire up the El Camino to pay sis-in-banging “Vinnie” a surprise visit—and maybe hit her up for extra cash, as well.
In his directorial debut, Dolman isn’t quite sure if he wants to make a comedy or a drama, so he allows the film’s tone to hover somewhere in the awkward middle. His script is, for the most part, absent zest and zingers, but Hawn, Sarandon, and Geoffrey Rush, who plays a frazzled failed writer Suzette boinks along the way, are such confident vets that they can bail out even the laziest of lines with clever phrasing and sly body language.
Sarandon and Hawn—an intriguing pairing, to say the least—spend most of The Banger Sisters sitcom-bickering about who has the better life and the bigger boobs. But when the inevitable girls’ night out comes around and Suzette gets Vinnie to chop that perfect hair, strap on some stilettos, and briefly return to riotous form, the veteran actresses have way too much fun—and so, finally, does the audience. Dolman’s most inspired moment is a raucous, pot-addled after-party, when the Bangers dust off the old “Rock-Cock Collection,” Polaroid snaps of famous rocker schlongs they got to know up close and personal. Squinting with tired eyes at the lengthiest of the lot, Sarandon asks, “Is that Roger’s?” “No,” Hawn says, peering even closer. “I’m pretty sure that’s Keith’s. I remember because I backlit it.” Penny Lane couldn’t have said it better.
Don’t feel too sorry for Sarandon, though: She gets the juiciest role in Igby Goes Down, a smarter-than-average coming-of-age flick from first-time writer-director Burr Steers, a local boy and St. Albans alum. As pill-popping old-money matriarch Mimi, a bewigged Sarandon torments her schizophrenic husband (Bill Pullman), her regimental-tied Republican son (Ryan Phillippe), and her youngest child (Kieran Culkin), the titular hero, all the way to her bitter end. Of the angry Igby, she snaps, “His creation was an act of animosity. Why shouldn’t his life be?”
Loosely based on Steers’ own turbulent upbringing in a dysfunctional white-collar brood, Igby is a little The Royal Tenenbaums (without the sweetness) and a whole lotta The Graduate (complete with a closing bus ride to uncertainty). Presented as a series of nasty, needling, and often very funny vignettes, the acerbically scripted film follows bitter wiseass Igby as he spends his 17th year getting booted from prep school to prep school to military academy, until he finally decides to flee to New York City and escape his cold, cruel family once and for all.
Too smart for his own good but too dumb to realize he’s heading for self-destruction, Igby is the kind of kid who enjoys confronting priests and demanding, “If heaven is such a wonderful place, why is getting crucified such a big fucking sacrifice?” But he’s also the kind of kid who sweetly apologizes to his childhood teddy before he rips the bear’s head off and stuffs drugs down its neck.
Steers displays a gift for comic timing and blending the high and the low with aplomb. (There haven’t been this many good put-downs of a feisty old broad since Fred zinged Aunt Esther on Sanford and Son.) And if Steers blatantly borrows his highly controlled shooting style from directors Wes Anderson and Mike Nichols, he’s still wise enough to give his talent-fat cast enough room to deliver the goods.
Taking over the prestigious mantle of the most talented Culkin, the dark-haired Kieran is convincingly jaded as Igby, an utterly self-aware Holden Caulfield for modern times. (Fair warning: A Culkin gets laid—twice.) Phillippe is callously sublime as broker-in-training Oliver, who pities his liberal brother and spits, “I think if Gandhi had had to hang out with you for any prolonged period of time, he’d have ended up kicking the shit out of you.” Claire Danes, slowly morphing into Gwyneth Paltrow, plays gentle Sookie Sapperstein, Igby’s first true love and, in a last-act twist of familial spite, first true heartbreak. And the always incandescent Amanda Peet is heroin-addicted artist Rachel, who toys with the affections of Igby’s Trump-like godfather (a menacing Jeff Goldblum in a role that should get him off the nebbish schneid)—until the big man moves on to a new beauty and Rachel crumbles in a pretty little mess, leaving an unprepared Igby to try to pick up her pieces.
Only in Igby’s final act does Steers, growing increasingly confident with his winning product, get a little too ambitious and guide his movie into more somber climes, replacing those bitter, beautiful one-liners with an ugly overdose, a broken heart, and a first-class beating. But leave it to Sarandon’s Mimi—on her deathbed, no less—to rescue Steers’ sanguine misdirection. “What do you expect me to be here, Mother?” a distraught Igby asks at her bedside. “Comic relief,” she purrs devilishly—to which her silver-tongued son can say nothing at all. CP