The Banger Sisters
Director : Bob Dolman
Screenplay : Bob Dolman
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Susan Sarandon (Lavinia Kingsley), Goldie Hawn (Suzette), Geoffrey Rush (Harry), Erika Christensen (Hannah Kingsley), Eva Amurri (Ginger Kingsley), Robin Thomas (Raymond Kingsley)
What happens when groupies grow up ... or don't? This is ostensibly the subject of writer/director Bob Dolman's The Banger Sisters, which stars the potentially crackerjack combo of Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn as two former swingin' '70s rock groupies who made it with the likes of Jimmie Page, Jim Morrison, and Frank Zappa and are now facing middle age. Unfortunately, Dolman, who is a first-time director, doesn't seem entirely sure what to do with his characters, and the movie too often skates along its admittedly interesting premise without ever puncturing the surface and getting to where the real humor and insight might be.
Suzette (Goldie Hawn) is still working as a bartender at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, the infamous L.A. club where groups like The Doors first got noticed. She is unceremoniously fired by the club's new corporate-minded manager, a man who doesn't seem to care about her infamous groupie past. "You're a ghost," he tells her, and he's mostly right. Suzette is still carefree and has plenty of mojo, but the times have passed her by—it just doesn't play anymore.
So, in a fit of desperation, she decides to visit her old buddy Vinnie (Susan Sarandon), who has buried her past long ago and is now an oh-so-proper housewife in Phoenix. Suzette wants a loan, but she and Vinnie haven't seen in each other in 20 years. At first there is nothing but friction, as Suzette hasn't changed one iota since the early '70s while Vinnie—who now, ahem, asks to be called by her full name, Lavinia—couldn't be any different. Married to a rich, button-down lawyer (Robin Thomas) and raising two spoiled, rebellious teenage brats (Erika Christensen and Eva Amurri), Lavinia has traded in her swinger days for a huge house in the hills with a perfectly manicured lawn, a wardrobe full of tasteful beige suits, and a string of Marge Simpson pearls that never leave her throat. She's uptight to the point of rigor mortis.
Naturally, being with Suzette helps coax her back to her former self, although the true reason for her transformation from Lavinia back to Vinnie is really in response to her family, who she finally realizes doesn't appreciate her and, in the case of her daughters, holds open contempt for her. There's a liberating moment in which Vinnie loses her cool and throws a chicken breast on her husband during dinner, but the outburst doesn't really lead anywhere except to a lot of hysterics. All she does is cut off her hair, squeeze into some tight leather pants, and then go drinking at a bar with Suzette followed by smoking a two-decade-old joint in the basement while looking at old photographs of rock stars' equipment (not the musical kind, mind you). Dolman can't seem to bring himself to truly revert Vinnie back to her carefree, sex-and-booze days, and it's quite clear that the familial unit will be perfectly restored by the end. Suzette, of course, can't change her ways either, so Dolman makes use of a painfully obvious graduation-day speech by Vinnie's eldest daughter about the joys of being yourself in order to bind the two lifestyles together in harmonious acceptance of each other.
Despite some genuine laughs throughout, The Banger Sisters is more than anything a disappointment, given its strong cast and interesting premise. It is also quite sloppy, particularly in the narrative department. Perhaps Dolman just couldn't think of enough material for Suzette and Vinnie, so he created a rather odd subplot involving Geoffery Rush as Harry, a fastidious, anal-retentive writer whom Suzette picks up on the way to Phoenix. In some ways, Harry is the movie's funniest creation, but he is also the most misplaced, at best a plot device (Suzette needs someplace to stay in Phoenix, after all), and at worst a distraction. In that respect, perhaps he's the movie's best asset: When he's on-screen, he takes our mind off the missed potential of the rest of the story.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick