The critical response to The Banger Sisters is almost more interesting than the film itself. While not receiving quite the male-dominated critical drubbing as that meted out to The Sweetest Thing, there’s an undeniable similarity in tone — a kind of nervous negativism about the depiction of sexually forward females behaving in a raunchy “locker room” manner. It’s a negativity that would be absent were the movie about a pair of long-in-the-tooth male lotharios, but when it comes to sexually aggressive 56-year-old women, well, that’s something else again. Some of us view it as healthily vulgar balance, but it clearly doesn’t set well with more than a few folks.
Goodness knows, there’s enough to complain about in The Banger Sisters. The storyline is silly and little more than a variant on any number of movies in which a character’s “perfect” life is brought down by the intrusion of a “less desirable” character from the past. (Rene Clair’s 1932 classic A Nous La Liberte comes immediately to mind.) It’s an old device that works well for farce — and farce is what The Banger Sisters is and wants to be.
The movie also falters in terms of character motivation. Former writer for two Ron Howard movies, Bob Dolman — in his debute as writer-director — evidences little concern over why his characters behave as they do, only that they perform according to the needs of the plot. Geoffrey Rush first appears as a dysfunctional compulsive character, but does an almost complete about-face when it suits the screenplay. The only clue we’re given to this transformation is his subtle change in facial expression as he watches Hawn’s wild character turn motherly while caring for a girl who’s having a bad LSD trip. Similarly, Sarandon’s character seques from resistent denial of her colorful past to wanting to recapture it in the twinkling of an eye — moved only by her daughters’ and husband’s making sport of the possibility that one so strait-laced and boring had any kind of a past at all. At least these two instances are given cursory explanations — that’s more than can be said for the Sarandon’s character’s husband (Robin Thomas). He has a change of heart simply because it’s time to wrap things up.
None of this seriously detracts from The Banger Sisters as a wild farce played to the hilt by its two stars and Geoffrey Rush. Hawn is a preposterously raunchy delight from the moment she appears on screen. Despite the undercurrent of pain that must, inevitably, be elemental in anyone eligible for a Long John Silver’s senior discount card while living on 20+ year old memories, she never lets down her manic edge. She takes control of every scene, in a way that makes it easy to forgive her performance in last year’s dismal Town and Country. There are few more gratifying moments in recent movies than Hawn forthrightly telling Rush, “I’m going to smoke. Endure it,” as she plops down into a chair, crosses her legs, and lights up.
Hawn’s teaming with Sarandon is inspired. Sarandon’s is by far the less flamboyant role, but she makes it into something real and even believable, despite the script’s sketchiness. Her devastated realization, “I’m the same color as the Department of Motor Vehicles and you look like a flower,” is both funny and sad — something any of us suffering from the subtle changes of age can identify with. Rush complements both actresses, but provides an especially good foil for Hawn. It’s a fun, messy, funny, well-intentioned movie that has the good sense to know when to stop. High art, it ain’t, but it offers a good enough time that you’re not likely to care.