Another rock ‘n’ roll groupie movie
Goldie Hawn, delivering what is easily her best performance in years, can’t save The Banger Sisters from being a shallow and implausible comedy.
Hawn is luminescent as Suzette, a bartender at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. A former rock groupie who had sex with Jim Morrison in the Whisky’s bathroom, Suzette declares that she is “history.” The young owner couldn’t give a damn about history, and just wants some new blood that won’t drink up all the liquor and ogle the talent, so she’s fired with no job prospects in sight.
After a night of crying and boogering, Suzette resolves to find her buddy Vinnie (Susan Sarandon) in Arizona, possibly for cash, and definitely for emotional support. Suzette and Vinnie were the Banger Sisters, named by Frank Zappa for their legendary sexual reputations, and they haven’t seen each other in 20 years.
When Suzette arrives in Arizona, she finds that Vinnie is now Lavinia, a house mom with two kids, Hannah and Ginger (Erika Christensen of Swimfan and Eva Amurri, Sarandon’s real daughter), and a doting but dim husband (Robin Thomas). In the matter of a day, Sarandon goes from hoity-toity woman orchestrating her daughter’s prom haircut back to her lascivious days with Suzette.
After a dinnertime confrontation with her husband that makes no sense (my guess is that some excised footage showed why the sad hubby is deserving of wearing his spaghetti), Vinnie cuts her hair, throws on some leather pants and hits the clubs with Suzette. They go dancing, and within the course of one Talking Heads song, Vinnie becomes a changed woman, or rather, changed back.
They then smoke a 20-year-old joint and peruse some photos of all the rock cocks they once rode. Is some of this stuff funny? I suppose it is. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. The problem is that Vinnies’s transformation is too rapid, the product of a conventional plot that needs her to go wild for the purpose of moving the film along.
This results in Sarandon’s Vinnie being more of a plot device than a character. The movie breezes through family and mid-life crisis in record time, refusing to develop any characters other than Hawn’s.
Sarandon tries hard, perhaps too hard, coming off as far more forced and clichéd than she ever has before. She does fine with the film’s big jokes (a sequence where she catches her daughter screwing in the family swimming pool is a riot), but her character arc is unbelievable. This is a film that wants to be taken seriously, and wants to be heartwarming, but it hardly gives the viewer a chance to give a damn about its occupants.
All is not lost. Hawn almost carries the picture, and she gets some decent help from Geoffrey Rush as an uptight screenwriter she picks up on the way to Arizona. I found the relationship between Hawn and the insane Rush to be more engaging than the business with Sarandon, simply because their interactions seem to have more meat on the bone.
Hawn’s character is surely reminiscent of Penny Lane, the groupie character her daughter Kate Hudson played in Almost Famous. Suzette seems to be Penny Lane all grown up, and in some obvious ways, she is. Still, the award for best groupie goes to Hudson, who did her dirty deeds in a much better movie.
The Banger Sisters is good for a couple of laughs, and reminds us that Hawn is capable of more than the goofball roles she’s been playing for so many years. Still, for a film that is supposed to be about hanging loose and freeing your spirit, it is surprisingly tight-assed.