By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Director/screenwriter Tony Vidal’s oddball, comedy “Free Byrd”
explores aging, fatherhood, friendship and simply letting go. It’s a rollicking bunch of absurdity and at times a compassionate drama too.
Jay Butler (Randy Nazarian, “Baja”) is a 55-year-old loveable guy who wishes he had a few more breaks in life. He’s tried his hand at acting and that didn’t pan out too well. Jay is also divorced and now works as a van driver at a senior citizen facility.
Every day is routine for Jay, but he makes the most of it which is a good thing because everyone at the assisted living community adores him. Jay’s life changes in ways he never imagined when he meets Harry Byrd (Raymond J. Barry, TV’s “13 Reasons Why”), an 80-year-old resident who is really going on 30.
Harry has no desire to be in the place, although his son Charles (Bob Turton, TV’s “Everyone is Doing Great”) believes it’s the best thing for him. Harry is so irritated that he’s stuck in this “old folks’ home” that he does everything possible to irk the staff. He winds up getting kicked out for unruly behavior.
His only other choice is to go to the Golden Oaks Senior Home, and you can probably guess who is tasked with driving him there. It’s Jay.
It’s a two-day trip and Jay is looking forward to traveling with Harry, but before leaving Jay gets a call that his father has died. Even worse, Jay learns that his old man who was loaded with money, didn’t leave him or his family a dime.
Jay tries to make the best of the unwelcome news and prepares for the funeral but also goes ahead and drives Harry to the new residence. He soon discovers that Harry is quite a smooth operator.
He wants Jay to take a joy ride and stop at a few places along the way. Live a little. Initially Jay refuses, but Harry can be so convincing, particularly when he talks about visiting a special and scenic beach area called Olompali that he and his deceased wife spent so much time at. He just wants one more look and one more memory to cherish.
After that, they wind up going on a nostalgic train ride and Jay is actually having a lot of fun with Harry. Both are opening up about their lives. Harry gives Jay some perspective on his and insists he shouldn’t give up his acting career. “Give it another shot because you’re never too old to try again” he says.
The next day, Harry steals Jay’s wallet. While they are at a rest stop, he takes off in the van but doesn’t get far because it breaks down.
He gets help from a group of burlesque dancers known as Pussy Gato and the Kittenettes. There’s the leader, Red (Shondrella Avery, TV’s “Game On! A Comedy Crossover Event”), Blossom (Jeanne Young, TV’s “Supernatural Assassins”), Iris (Teruko Nakajima, TV’s “Lady Dynamite”) and Gemini (Toktam Aboozary, “The Council”). They have more exciting plans for Harry and offer to take him to their show at a nearby casino. Harry is always ready for a good time. Meanwhile, Jay is trying to locate Harry. He finally connects with him and his new friends.
Their adventure gets even more outlandish when they agree to perform a comedy routine on stage at the casino with Pussy Gato and the Kittenettes.
Both men discover freedom and a happiness that they hadn’t experienced in some time. Jay comes away with the biggest life lesson of all, not to mention, a lovely parting gift from Harry.
“Free Byrd” is a delightful and funny little film that grows on you as it rolls along.
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Watch This Trailer For "FREE BYRD"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The American Film Institute (AFI), and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.