Susan Sarandon makes thin script fairly burst with energy

In `Banger Sisters,' Goldie Hawn takes her chum back to hippie days

September 20, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The Banger Sisters stands as proof that no movie is so bad it can't be redeemed by a single stellar performance.

That performance is by Susan Sarandon, who is so believably unleashed as a former groupie learning to embrace her uninhibited past, it's tempting to believe she was reading from a different script when considering the part.

Unfortunately, the script she was given to work with isn't much at all. At best, it's a trifle about old rock and rollers struggling to make sense of their misspent youth in light of the wisdom that comes with age. At worst, it's a dangerously simplistic paean to the sort of "anything goes" lifestyle that seemed so quaint and curious and even romantic back in the '60s, but today embraces perils undreamed of in the Summer of Love.

The ageless Goldie Hawn, who must drink daily from the Fountain of Youth, is Suzette, an unrepentant rocker dating back to the glory days of Jim Morrison who's just been fired from her bartending job. Penniless, jobless and apparently friendless (hard to believe, given her boundless - if perhaps calcified - joie de vivre), a desperate Suzette hits the road for Arizona, where her one-time soulmate, Vinnie Kingsley (Sarandon), lives.

Vinnie, however, is far from interested. Abandoning her wild-woman days, she's reverted to her given name (Lavinia), married a lawyer with political aspirations, moved into a palatial home and raised two hopelessly spoiled daughters. She's become a pillar of the community, with a past that apparently no one (including her husband) knows anything about.

And she treats Suzette like a piece of lint.

But then Suzette goes and helps Vinnie's daughter, Hannah (Erika Christensen), down from a bad acid trip. Reluctantly, Lavinia agrees to have lunch with her old friend. Later, over dinner with the Kingsley family, Lavinia realizes just how much she's lost by abandoning her hellfire ways. In a too-easily-arrived-at epiphany, Vinnie's and Suzette's souls merge once again, Vinnie cuts her hair and lets loose on the dance floor, and everything old becomes new again.

Oh, thrilling.

Hawn, as appealing as ever, doesn't always make a convincing ex-hippie, perhaps because ex-hippies themselves are not always convincing; their mores and lifestyles are so of another time that what once seemed revolutionary is now just quaint. Still, it's hard not to have a rooting interest in Suzette, as she struggles to get Vinnie to lighten up.

Sarandon, however, is extraordinary. Her Lavinia has fully embraced the upper-crust life, as passionately as Vinnie did the other extreme; Sarandon paints a compelling, sympathetic picture of a woman who, seeing her unrepentant old friend, has memories of a time when life was all about possibilities, not commitments. Lavinia's transformation back to Vinnie comes unexpectedly and with not nearly enough prompting, but in Sarandon's hands, it all seems to make sense.

But writer-director Bob Dolman insists on mixing in a pointless subplot involving an emotionally fragile writer grappling with memories of his own unfortunate youth (Geoffrey Rush seems as ill-satisfied with the character as we are). And by throwing Lavinia's two daughters into the mix, and suggesting that their lives would be a lot happier, and they'd be better people, if they followed more in Vinnie's footsteps than in their straight-arrow mom's, he dangerously oversimplifies things.

True, letting loose can be a wonderful, life-enhancing thing. But Suzette and Vinnie were doing their thing back in the days before AIDS and crack cocaine and drive-by shootings and ecstacy. To suggest there's no difference between then and now, and in the requisite survival skills, is not to do anyone - or any era - any favors.

Banger Sisters

Starring Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon

Directed by Bob Dolman

Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rated R (Language, nudity, drug and alcohol use)

Time 94 minutes

SUN SCORE: **

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