Rated R - Running Time: 1:37 - Released 9/20/02

The directing debut of screenwriter Bob Dolman (Willow), The Banger Sisters is aimed directly at members of the aging baby boomer generation (i.e., me), who remember Goldie Hawn from Laugh-In (not The Out-Of-Towners) and Susan Sarandon from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (not Dead Man Walking). As such, it will probably not do much at the box office, but that's not because it's not a good movie. Hawn and Sarandon fit easily into their roles as a pair of ex-groupies from the age of Morrison and Zappa who took radically different paths later in life. To some, this will be a simple comedy about former hippies and the reversal of the generation gap, but these two understand their parts so well they raise it to a higher level than even director Dolman may have expected. Geoffrey Rush, meanwhile, playing a writer with serious personal issues whose life is changed by the two women, adds a nice counterpoint to the story.

In a way, Hawn is playing an older version of the character essayed two years ago in Almost Famous by her daughter, Kate Hudson (who, incidentally, can now be seen one theater over in The Four Feathers). A 50-something Hollywood bartender who was a "professional" groupie during the late '60s and early '70s, Suzette has not lost her passion for peace, love, and music, but her carefree work ethic gets her fired, so she decides to set out for Phoenix to look for her former best friend and fellow "banger sister," Vinnie (Sarandon). En route, she meets Harry Plummer (Rush), an obsessive/compulsive writer who is traveling cross-country to shoot his father, whom he blames for his failed career (since his dad never had any faith in him). He agrees to pay for gas if she'll give him a ride, so an odd-couple alliance is born.

When Suzette arrives at Vinnie's palatial suburban home, she discovers that her old pal has become a full-fledged member of The Establishment, with a lawyer/politician husband (Robin Thomas), two teen daughters (Erika Christensen, Eva Amurri), and a closet full of beige business suits. Not surprisingly, Vinnie (who now goes by "Lavinia") is not particularly happy to see Suzette, who holds secrets that would shatter her pillar-of-the-community image. But Suzette soon discovers things are not as rosy as they appear in Lavinia's family, and their bemused attitude toward her checkered past causes Lavinia to long for the good old days. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Harry is pounding away at the typewriter, having found inspiration in Suzette's charms.

I mentioned Almost Famous because Suzette, like Penny Lane, is really the central character; her arrival, like a meteor crashing into the lives of both Harry and Lavinia, serves as the catalyst for self-examination. In fact, she seems to charm everyone she meets, including Lavinia's kids, the hotel clerk, and me. Hawn never stops surprising me at how truly talented she is; after being hired as a giggly, bikini-clad go-go dancer on Laugh-In, she went on to become a prominent activist for women's issues and a very successful producer, but besides all that, she's just a good actor, with an uncanny ability to own the words her character speaks. She is also, may I say, still quite sexy at age 57. The talents of Sarandon and Rush add to the enjoyable nature of this production, and Christensen (who can be seen two theaters over in Swimfan) and Amurri (who actually is Sarandon's daughter) are no less engaging. I also enjoyed soundtrack selections by The Doors, Talking Heads, and even Steppenwolf. But be warned; this movie contains relaxed attitudes toward teen sex and recreational drug use—they're not encouraged, but simply seen as a part of life, which they are. So if you're offended by this, beware. I don't want you to freak out, man. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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