14 September 2011 | lor_
Excellent adaptation; worth seeking out
Character actress turned filmmaker Margaret Whitton demonstrates real directorial savvy with A BIRD OF THE AIR, an appealing dramedy adapted by Roger Towne ("The Natural") from Joe Coomer's 1992 novel THE LOOP. Indie production may be low-profile amongst the high-concept Hollywood product out there, but is a highly recommended movie.
Originally optioned by Oprah and later acquired by Matthew McConaughey as a vehicle for himself and post-SAHARA (but pre-Oscar) Penelope Cruz, Whitton's eventual version benefits from casting unknown leads.
Jackson Hurst toplines as Lyman, a handsome introvert with zero social skills, whose job is cleaning up the interstate in rural New Mexico by night, aiding stranded or injured motorists. A beautiful, flighty young librarian Fiona (winningly personified by Rachel Nichols) sets her romantic sights on Lyman, and a decidedly unconventional bond develops between the mismatched pair.
A couple of non-human characters balance and amplify the drama, as a parrot mysteriously flies into Lyman's trailer home one day, an aged, lost soul like our orphan hero. Fiona's basset hound is the other leading player, at first downright hostile to Lyman, but later helping to break down his protective shell.
Much of the narrative revolves around Lyman's quest to track down the previous owners of the parrot, while Fiona researches Lyman's own shady background. Director Whitton has cleverly distorted the voices of those owners to provide a voice for the humorously loquacious bird, whose pronouncements hint at the film's underlying themes.
Brief but telling character turns are provided by the succession of owners, all sympathetically acted by a diverse group of talents including Buck Henry, Judith Ivey and Phyllis Sommerville. Film buffs will also note a welcome (albeit fleeting) return to the screen by Anjanette Comer as Buck's wife. Also forceful in support is Linda Emond as a diner waitress who mothers Lyman and narrates the picture.
Flavorful but not showy lensing by Oscar-winner Philippe Rousselot is a plus, and the film remains offbeat without succumbing to the cutesy clichés that tempt so many indie efforts of late. Hurst is disarming as the central hunk, acting in a style reminiscent of early Harrison Ford (before he started taking himself a bit too seriously) and Nichols, in quite a turnabout after co-starring opposite CONAN THE BARBARIAN, is a radiant heroine.