By James Lindorf
There are a lot of movies about finding yourself or discovering your path in life. There are coming of age movies about the stress of moving beyond childhood into adolescence or adulthood. There are college movies like Accepted and Legally Blonde about young people learning they can be more than they ever imagined. Then there are the midlife crisis movies like “This is 40” or “Crazy, Stupid, Love” about coping with aging or readjusting after losing a job/partner and finding a new normal. The rarest of these films are about someone older discovering that their dreams never died; they just stopped trying to achieve them. Writer/Director/Producer Tony Vidal’s latest film Free Byrd is one such movie. The unrated Free Byrd has a runtime of 89 minutes and will be available on Digital HD and VOD on April 1st.
Jay Butler (Randy Nazarian) is a lovable underachiever working as a driver at an assisted living community. Harry Byrd (Raymond J. Barry, “Justified”) is being kicked out of that community for taking his anger out on the staff. Jay is assigned to drive Harry to his new home, and if everything goes well, he should be back in 3 or 4 days. But things quickly begin to spiral out of control. The pair are met with car troubles, a troupe of burlesque dancers led by Red (Shondrella Avery, Napoleon Dynamite). They are forced to perform an impromptu comedy act, and all while Harry is trying to run away at every turn. If they can finish the trip without killing each other, they may learn a thing or two and maybe even be friends.
Randy Nazarian has acted on and off over the last 25 years, but there is a good chance you have never seen him before. While he isn’t well known, I can see why Tony Vidal keeps partnering with him. Randy is a poor man’s Joe Pesci without the yelling and the anger. I know that sounds strange because the angry muttering and yelling are Pesci’s calling card, but it is more about presence, and having a similar build helps draw comparisons. Barry is good as Harry but could have been better if the character wasn’t so eccentric. Barry is 82 now, more than old enough for the role, but honestly, he doesn’t look that much older than he did nearly 30 years ago in “Cool Runnings.” With so much of the story centered on these two characters, it is essential that you like what the actors are doing. The two lead performances, plus that of Avery and the rest of her group, are the only thing that kept my attention.
People tend to love road trip movies from “Planes Trains and Automobiles” to the Best Picture-winning “The Green Book.” When you combine a road trip movie with a coming of age movie, it should be the beginning of some cinematic nirvana. However, the story is too clunky to achieve take-off, let alone reach the heavens. It feels like the script suffers more from a lack of funding than imagination. Most road trip movies feature a ton of cameos and many wild scenarios the leads have to get themselves out of. “Free Byrd” feels like it is essentially empty, and it’s most likely because they couldn’t afford the actors. Then there is the fact that the most exciting scenario is a low-speed pursuit in an RV. With more money, I believe Vidal could have crafted a story that was as good as the characters, but as it stands, they are underserved.
“Free Byrd” never hits the highs I was hoping for. Still, the good performances create an endearing and occasionally funny movie about never giving up on yourself.
Original Language: English
Director: Tony Vidal
Producer: Tony Vidal, Shondrella Avery, Nicole de Meneses
Writer: Tony Vidal
Release Date (Streaming): April 1st, 2021
Runtime: 1h 29m
Production Company: Prankster Entertainment