The Banger Sisters

(Bob Dolman, USA, 2002)


Many critics cultivate a taste for films that either work right outside conventional rules, or slyly subvert them from within. But sometimes a completely formulaic film manages to play the same old song with such vigour and cleverness that it restores one’s lost faith in popular, mainstream cinema.

The Banger Sisters succeeds so well because of its stars, Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon. They play old friends who have taken two very different paths in life, and now must renegotiate their bond. But the premise has an in-built thrill, for these friends were once voracious groupies.

Whereas Suzette (Hawn) has held on to this loveless lifestyle for too long, the problem facing Vinnie (Sarandon) is quite the opposite. She has become a prim mother and housewife, mocked by her husband, Raymond (Robert Thomas), and disrespected by her teenage daughters, rebellious Hannah (Erika Christensen) and neurotic Ginger (Eva Amurri).

Vinnie’s path to personal liberation is not especially spectacular. But the interactions between her and Suzette, first hostile and later warm, are an absolute delight. An understated dance scene and a lightly outrageous plot twist involving Vinnie’s secret Polaroid collection of "rock cocks" deserve to be included among the highlights of the filmgoing year.

Writer-director Bob Dolman occasionally loses his way with this material. Geoffrey Rush inhabits a mostly detachable subplot as Harry, another uptight individual who requires a sentimental education. Dolman contrivedly keeps cutting to Harry at his typewriter no matter what is going on in the main plot – he is even magically able to dance to music he cannot hear. At such moments, The Banger Sisters resembles a television sitcom.

But whenever Hawn and Sarandon take back the storyline, the magic reappears. Hawn enjoys a special triumph here. She is a superb comedienne in the mould of Claudette Colbert or Lucille Ball, as adept with physical humour as with screwball dialogue. And her vibrant rapport with Sarandon ensures that the many jokes centring on details of feminine appearance – Suzette’s enlarged breasts, Vinnie’s bland suits – register as affectionate rather than cruel.

© Adrian Martin November 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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