A Free Bird
3 Jul 2022
Russell Durham Comegys, Karen-Eileen Gordon, George Faughnan
Written and Directed by Gregg Russell, A Free Bird is a dark comedy set in Panama City in Florida, where an angry JT has just been fired from his job at a steakhouse for stealing eggs. Hostile, resentful and without many prospects, JT jumps at the chance to join some friends in a plot to rob the steakhouse that screwed him over. What could possibly go wrong?
Russell’s feature feels very Floridian and contains well-filmed and innovative camera shots exploring the small-town landscape. The continuous sound of the crickets and cicadas buzzing creates a sense of being able to feel the ongoing heat and humidity that accompany the rising temperatures of JT’s anger. All these qualities do well to successfully create the feel of the Southern town where everyone knows each other and each other’s business. However, this is the only merit I give the film overall. As JT has no prospects, money or opportunities, he resents everyone for the sense of stasis that he feels in not being able to progress in life. It feels like a missed opportunity to explore the lack of opportunities afforded to under-privileged people in the American South. The humour is crass and offensive in parts as if making fun of, or satirising, people struggling for money.
JT’s annoyance at everything going wrong in his life prompts him to seek revenge on the manager that fired him. His ex-con friend, Jimmy Bobo, hatches a janky plan to rob the steakhouse of all their meat and creates a gang of four idiots to undertake a sloppy and far-from-seamless robbery. Having not much else going for him, JT accepts. As predicted, the robbery itself does not go to plan and exposes all men for being stupid. As chaos unravels further and further, you cannot help but think parts of the film are unnecessary. Despite some scenes being acceptable and funny in a ridiculous way, and the acting being good, others are far from appropriate in terms of dialogue and also drag out for longer than they should. The repetition and offensive lines have no impact and instead lose any potential that the film may have had.
What is most irksome about this film is JT’s girlfriend Tammy’s loyalty to him, as there is no reason for her to stick with him. Ultimately, JT is a total scumbag – especially to Tammy – and in reality, she would have nothing to do with him. Yet, she campaigns to win him back and be supportive of him no matter what, which does not seem very realistic. Women are not handled very well in this film, both by the male characters or the script. It also feels degrading to have women throw themselves at these men who do not treat them with the respect that they deserve.
A Free Bird could have been a really successful redemption arc for protagonist JT finding a good sense of direction in life, but it just wasn’t. Instead, a full-circle ‘woe is me’ narrative causes the film to fall flat and what few lessons JT learned were undermined. For a whole lot of talking in this feature, there are hardly any jokes to be laughed at.