Film Reviews

BANGER SISTERS

By • Sep 20th, 2002 •

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I learned this from the cover story on Madonna in the October 2002 issue of Vanity Fair: Madonna knows that no one is interested in a 44 year-old slut.

THE BANGER SISTERS is a tribute to 56 year-old groupies who defiantly refuse to assimilate their adventurous past into their middle age lives.

Suzette (Goldie Hawn) and Lavina (Susan Sarandon) were famous groupies in the heyday of rock and roll. They slept with tons of rock stars, musicians, and roadies. Suzette’s most famous conquest was Jim Morrison (never mind that The Lizard King was rumored to not be able to get it up). She has a tattoo of a lizard wearing a crown in honor of Morrison. When The Banger Sisters ended their reign, Suzette stayed put and lived off her arthritic sexy reputation; Lavina married a lawyer with political ambitions, had two spoiled daughters, and buried her past. She has a perfect life in Arizona (they have waterfalls and a maid).

Suzette, a bartender on the Sunset Strip, believes she is still a hottie. One night she is fired. Dead broke, she heads for Arizona to borrow money from a friend she hasn’t seen in 20 years. (Doesn’t this scenario bring fear to all of us?) She runs out of gas and asks everybody getting off a bus for one dollar or even fifty cents. I’d say her life – up to this point – is a mess. No money, no friends, no future.

Suzette meets Harry (Geoffrey Rush), an uptight writer who plans on killing his father, getting off the bus. He’s got lots of phobias due to the fact he hasn’t had sex in ten years. He buys Suzette a tank of gas for a ride to Phoenix. When Suzette takes a look at Lavina’s home, she heads right back to Harry’s hotel room and shows him exactly what made her a legendary groupie.

Finding Lavina’s daughter Hannah (Erika Christensen) high on LSD after her prom and then nursing her through the night pulls Suzette into Lavina’s world. (How she knew 17 year-old Hannah was Lavina’s daughter is not explained.) Hannah and younger sister Ginger (Eva Amurri – Sarandon’s daughter being shepherded into the family business) are brats who are shocked by their straight-laced mother’s tousled-haired, boobs-flaunting friend. Lavina, formerly known as Vinnie, has never spoken about having Polaroids of rock stars’ penises or her skill at seducing them. Well, there aren’t many people who haven’t flogged their dalliances with the famous. (I’ve always pitied the relatives and friends of Judith Exner-Campbell, Paula Jones, and Gennifer Flowers, to name just a few.)

Its one thing to bury the past and go forward, its quite another to feign amnesia. Lavina could easily be accused of being a hypocrite. This is the insurmountable problem with Lavina’s character.

I have a prejudice against Goldie Hawn’s insistent demand we view her as 30 years old, but she won me over in THE BANGER SISTERS through her sheer delight in playing a foul-talking old tart. Suzette is so bluntly written, without a trace of sentimentality, and so blisteringly defined, that every other character seems overlooked and underwritten. Hawn looks terrific (and nowhere near battle-scarred with hard-living neglect) and scene steals with determined abandonment. The joke – this is a woman past fifty still expecting her boobs to be admired – just doesn’t fly that high since Hawn looks so gloriously fit and close-up wrinkle-free. Nevertheless it does work since the audience knows how old Hawn actually is.

Sarandon can’t find Lavina’s center of gravity or a good solid reason why, in retrospect, the groupie lifestyle was not very meaningful. Instead of pointing out the big plusses to her later choices, like not having to beg for gas money, she confesses she lost her true self while serving the needs of her family. To acknowledge the perks of her choice would highlight Suzette’s obvious failures. This is the underlying problem in THE BANGER SISTERS. Why should Lavina regret not hanging on to skintight pants, low-cut halters, and cheap high heels?

The fast, 24 day production shoot and modest budget worked perfectly for first-time director (and writer) Bob Dolman. They must have gone with first takes and the free-wheeling pace seems to have brought out the very best in Hawn. While I would not like to see Hawn reprise this role again and again, she’s the best thing about the movie.

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