The Banger Sisters is a crowd pleaser, with a bland, feel-good story spiced up with some funny lines, frank sexuality and terrific performances by Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon. For Hawn, this is her best outing in a while; her last two features, Town & Country and The Out of Towners were major embarrassments for all involved. But her role here, as Suzette, a groupie who hasn’t changed her ways since her heyday twenty years ago, is perfect for her, playing on the image of the gutsy party girl with a heart of gold and a large tattoo on her arm. As her pal Lavinia (Sarandon) proclaims to her, "You’re a force!"
Laviniawent a different route, marrying well and living the straight and luxe life in Phoenix with her lawyer husband and two pampered teen-age daughters. Suzette, broke, drives to Phoenix to hit Lavinia up for a loan–though she hasn’t seen her in years. On the road she picks up a passenger, Harry (Geoffrey Rush), a rather delightfully quirky, hyper-fastidious writer, the kind of guy whose glasses are on a cord.
When Suzette goes to Lavinia’s landscaped-to-a-T suburban dream-house, Lavinia is rigidly uptight, fearful that Suzette will reveal her past which she has kept a complete secret, even from her husband. She tries to buy Suzette off, which Suzette has too much pride to accept. What follows is a series of plot contrivances designed to bring the friends back together again, redeem Suzette (as a "force") and compel Lavinia to lighten up and reassess the life she is living. Predictably, Rush will be saved as well, and, since there’s a high school daughter, you just know in the first half hour that it will all end up with a valedictorian speech, carefully calculated to lay out the message in case anyone in the audience hasn’t caught it yet.
Sarandon is a force herself, a one-woman challenge to Hollywood’s long-complained-of ageism. Her star turn in the recent Igby Goes Down was very dark, as well as funny. In The Banger Sisters, she’s equally adept in a far lighter vehicle. And she looks better and is sexier than most of the women half her age on screen today.
The mushy story is nearly redeemed by some nicely observed details. A look at Lavinia’s closet, for example, full of elegant clothes entirely in neutral colors, is followed up with her own distressed realization while at a nondescript government office: "I’m the same color as the DMV!" The film plays to nostalgia for the great rock music of the late 60’s and early 70’s, with repeated nods to idolized Jim Morrison. It almost plays as if it were written for a market demographic–catch the middle-aged audience with a memory trip, catch the kids with the high school daughters’ viewpoint.
But screenwriter Bob Dolman (Far and Away, Willow), here in his directing debut as well, settled for too little. Instead of digging more deeply and drawing more complex characters and motivations, he skims along the surface, plays to the mass market, and delivers a sitcom which will be forgotten a week after it is seen.