The banger sisters

In Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” Kate Hudson, daughter of actress Goldie Hawn, plays a 1970’s rock and roll groupie, excuse me, a Band Aid, named Penny Lane. Because “Almost Famous” took place in the moment, we only got to see a small sliver of Lane’s life. Rumor has it that the real Lane “aided” quite a few “bands,” but was never willing to name names.

“The Banger Sisters” has no such problem. Written and directed by Bob Dolman, “The Banger Sisters” stars Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon as two former 60’s groupies whose lives have taken distinctly different turns. In two twists of irony, Hawn portrays what could be an adult Penny Lane, and squares off against daughter Kate at the box office, who is currently starring in the remake of “The Four Feathers.”

While Lane was discreet about her encounters, Suzette, still working as a bartender at the Whisky on Sunset Strip, wallows in her past, telling anyone who will listen that Jim Morrison once passed out on her in the bathroom. Suzette even claims Frank Zappa gave her and Vinnie (Susan Sarandon) their nickname.

Suzette knows she’s a relic, but hangs on by the last threads of her dignity until she is unceremoniously fired. Broke and homeless, Suzette packs up her life and heads off to Phoenix, where she hopes to borrow money from Vinnie, now the married mother of two troubled teens.

Whereas the only thing different about Suzette are the lines on her face, Vinnie, now Lavinia, has become a reluctant member of the establishment. She hasn’t even told her husband Raymond (Robin Thomas) or teenage daughters Hannah (Erika Christensen) and Ginger (Eva Amurri) about her sordid past.

All that changes when Suzette shows up on Lavinia’s doorstep with Hannah, suffering a bad reaction to some acid she took at the prom. Waiting in the car is Harry (Geoffrey Rush), a fussy screenwriter who hitched a ride with Suzette to Phoenix to take care of some old family business. Lavinia’s family is taken aback by Suzette’s brash behavior, but are shocked when they learn of Lavina’s past.

“The Banger Sisters” is extremely conventional, almost to the point of being sitcom, but the lively performances of Hawn and Sarandon as two women trying to catch the golden ring of their past one last time make the film come alive. Dolman, a screenwriter making his debut as a director, is smart to stand back and let the women do their stuff. His screenplay is peppered with salty, sexual language, a post “Sex and the City” after effect, but the words sound natural coming out of the mouths of Suzette and Lavinia.

Hawn is especially good as aging free spirit Suzette who doesn’t mind that she can store her entire life in the back of a car. Her personal baggage is much more interesting. Hawn is so honest and endearing as Suzette that we instantly want to like her. She may be yesterday’s news, but Hawn makes us want to read between the lines, to understand this woman and her life.

Sarandon is equally pleasing as a woman who gave up everything that made her unique to become a mother and a wife. It’s not a bad life, but the moment Suzette springs back into the picture, there’s a glimmer in Lavinia’s eyes that wasn’t there when we first met her. There’s a great “Nine to Five” moment where Suzette and Lavinia sneak off into a closet to smoke a joint and rummage through a box of old mementos.

It’s here where we finally see the connection between the two, an unspoken bond that resurfaces after years of suffocation. Watching these two characters come to life, facing their fears and hopes together, elevates the film’s familiar movie-of-the-week story arcs into something special.

The domestic drama isn’t as compelling, but every time Hawn and Sarandon share the screen, nothing else matters. Erika Christensen rebounds from “Swimfan” with a touching performance as Lavinia’s daughter who doesn’t know she’s more like her mom than she realizes. Eva Amurri, Sarandon’s real-life daughter, is likeable, and funny, as the youngest daughter with problems of her own.

Even if they lack depth, Dolman insures that the women characters constantly have a bounce in their step. The male characters aren’t nearly as lucky. They frequently trip over Dolman’s uneasy indifference, serving as human roadblocks on the hormone highway of chick flicks. Rush is set-up as the quirky love interest for Hawn, but the payoff isn’t there. As Lavinia’s husband, Robin Thomas is reduced to exasperated expressions.

“The Banger Sisters” is a perfect example of talent overcoming weak material. As the film’s writer, Dolman isn’t nearly as in tune with his characters as are the actors portraying them. As director, it is apparent Dolman is still searching for his niche. Some moments sparkle as bright as a diamond. Others are cold and sullen like coal. A much more seasoned director/writer would have been able to squeeze the coal into a diamond.


These Bangers groove to their own tune


Susan Sarandon, Goldie Hawn, Geoffrey Rush, Erika Christensen, Eva Amurri, Robin Thomas. Written and directed by Bob Dolman. Rated R. 98 Minutes.


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