Anyone who wishes the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll hadn’t been homogenized and commercialized into submission should get a kick out of “The Banger Sisters.” Feisty fun from start to finish, pic, which stars Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon as legendary former groupies who reconnect for the first time in 20 years, will resonate best with moviegoers over 35; if word gets out to the boomer demographic, neatly scripted and efficiently helmed comedy from vet screenwriter and debuting director Bob Dolman should shine at the B.O.
Footloose, still vivacious bartender Suzette (Hawn) has been a fixture at the Whisky a Go Go on L.A.’s Sunset Strip since Jim Morrison passed out atop her in the club’s bathroom. When the chronically cash-starved, authority-flaunting Suzette is fired for insubordination — which in her case stems from seemingly genetic rebelliousness — she sets out for Phoenix unannounced to see Lavinia “Vinnie” Kingsley (Sarandon) for a morale boost and possible financial assistance.
Frank Zappa gave Suzette and Vinnie their joint sobriquet the Banger Sisters in recognition of services cheerfully rendered to musicians and roadies. “If you played L.A., chances are we rattled you,” Suzette opines. The two women, now fiftyish, haven’t been in touch for two decades but since Suzette hasn’t modified her cheery freedom-loving disposition one bit, it doesn’t occur to her that Vinnie may have taken a different path.
Armed with a flower child’s eternal optimism, Suzette is panhandling for gas money at a truck stop when fastidious Harry (Geoffrey Rush), desperate to ditch the Greyhound bus he’s been riding on, volunteers to fill her tank if she’ll drive him the rest of the way to Phoenix. Blocked screenwriter Harry, age 50, gave up driving a while back; it’s also been 10 years — by choice — since he’s had sex. Suzette’s spontaneity and forthright womanly appetites are threatening to the ultra-methodical, emotionally zipped tight Harry.
While time was standing still for the fun-loving Suzette, her erstwhile co-conspirator in sexual escapades has made a clean break with her rambunctious past — emphasis on “clean.” Prim and proper Lavinia, who now does social work, is married to Raymond (Robin Thomas), a corporate lawyer with political aspirations who hasn’t a clue of his wife’s notorious past. They’ve raised two teen daughters who can barely picture their rigid controlling mom tapping her foot to an easy-listening beat let alone going through studly rockers like paper plates.
About-to-graduate Hannah (Erika Christensen) is class valedictorian and Vassar-bound. Sixteen-year-old Ginger (Sarandon’s real life daughter Eva Amurri) is spoiled rotten and has a strange psychosomatic tic involving her throat.
Suzette’s impromptu arrival as Lavinia and Raymond are seeing Hannah off to the prom, does not go well. Holier than thou Lavinia is soon accusing Suzette of “looking too permissive.” Bummed, Suzette crashes at Harry’s hotel, which happens to be the site of the high school prom. Suzette is the perfect one-woman rescue squad in the right place at the right time when Hannah reacts badly to a tab of acid. Merely by being herself, Suzette is the catalyst for seismic changes in the Kingsley household. She’s also a positive influence on self-pitying Harry. For Suzette may be a flake but she’s a genuine free spirit, always true to herself, outspoken and attuned to her own brand of self-actualized integrity. When Vinnie is abruptly put back in touch with her long lost sensibilities, humor ensues.
Never heavy, deftly modulated comic script is an amusing exploration of the “Do as I say, not as I do” school of parenting and a casual primer on constructive applications of freedom and responsibility. Pic manages to skirt any intimation of sordidness while making it quite clear that Suzette and Vinnie were unabashedly intimate with everyone filed under “Classic Rock” in today’s record bins.
Narrative situations play into both actresses’ strengths and physical attributes, right down to their respective cleavage quotients. Rush is quite simply a hoot. Adult fans of good thesping in the service of a lightweight but thoroughly entertaining story should bask in the antics.
Ultra widescreen frame provides plenty of opportunities for thesps to strut their stuff and is well suited to the open road and the frighteningly manicured estates of suburban Phoenix. Use of music is appropriate but borderline too subtle for an ode to an era. Jim Morrison is thanked in the credits for his “assistance.”