Title: A Bird of the Air
Director: Margaret Whitton
Starring: Jackson Hurst, Rachel Nichols, Linda Emond, Buck Henry, Judith Ivey, Erik Jensen, Matte Osian
“A Bird of the Air,” based on the novel “The Loop” by Joe Coomer, represents an unexpected boon to the judgment of Matthew McConaughey. After all, the naked drumming aficionado was attached to star in the movie adaptation for some time, back when he and “Sahara” costar Penelope Cruz were keeping each other warm. The financing never came together, however, and he backed out. Other possible filmmaking combinations came and went before a decidedly more indie route was eventually settled upon, years later, in the form of Jackson Hurst and Rachel Nichols. It’s through no particular singular damaging fault of theirs that this forced, unconvincingly zany dramedy fails to take flight. It’s in the material, alas.
Hurst stars as Lyman, a loner who works a courtesy patrol graveyard shift, helping stranded motorists and clearing highways of debris. Immobilized but generally unaware of his isolation, Lyman finds his carefully walled-off world thrown into disarray when a parrot flies into his trailer. The more non sequiturs it vocalizes, the more Lyman becomes dead-set on tracking down its previous owner(s). Simultaneously, Fiona (Nichols), a wanderlust librarian who takes great delight in discovering corresponding lost-and-found ads in the local newspaper, latches onto Lyman as both a kind of pet project and potential romantic interest.
From early on, “A Bird of the Air” just feels off, and false. It wants so desperately to be wacky, but screwball requires at least two participants (and actual characterizations, not just broadly sketched types), and Roger Towne’s script only fitfully makes Lyman a partner in that regard. Hurst — far from magnetic to begin with — oscillates between earnestness and a kind of deadened affect that makes him seem like a serial killer. (An orange jumpsuit doesn’t help.) Nichols, meanwhile, is absolutely lovely and sometimes quite funny — definitely the best thing about the movie — but still comes off a bit ill suited for something so laboriously quirky.
Director Margaret Whitton never locates a convincing overarching tone for the material, and neither is there a focused stylistic lens through which it is filtered. Most crucially, though, there’s also none of the show-up-wounded sense of imperfect love that would give this movie heft as a romance. Omnipotent narration from a diner waitress only further muddies the view of exactly whose story “A Bird of the Air” is, and why an audience should care.
Written by: Brent Simon