Grand Theft Parsons

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/10/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 87 mins

Surprisingly moving true-life road movie / black comedy, with a sweet performance from Johnny Knoxville.

The superbly-titled Grand Theft Parsons is based on a bizarre true story, about the funeral pact between cult country music star Gram Parsons and his friend and road manager Phil Kaufman.

Country Star In Posthumous Road Trip

Directed by Irish director David Caffrey (Divorcing Jack) from a screenplay by English writer Jeremy Drysdale, the film was shot on a shoe-string budget in just 24 days, after eleventh hour funding from Wall Street traders who responded to the theme of the movie in the wake of September 11th. The result is a surprisingly moving, offbeat road movie that features a sweet performance from Jackass star Johnny Knoxville in his first leading role.

Set in 1973, the film opens with a large-ish bloke popping his clogs whilst enjoying himself in a motel room with a cute blonde. (Rock and roll, eh?) The stiff in question turns out to be cult musician Gram Parsons and when his friend and road manager Phil Kaufman (Johnny Knoxville) learns of his untimely demise he vows to deliver on the funeral pact that the two of them made a couple of months earlier: namely that he will cremate his friend in Joshua Tree National Park.

Having co-opted his stoner hippie friend Larry Oster-Berg (Michael Shannon) into borrowing his bright yellow hearse “Bernice” ‘for a prank’, Kaufman runs into a couple of problems: firstly, Parsons’ father (Robert Forster) has already flown out to collect the body and is about to have it flown home; and secondly, Parsons’ greedy ex-girlfriend Barbara (Christina Applegate) also wants the corpse so as to validate his ‘will’ (a scrap of paper, supposedly leaving her everything).

So when Kaufman bribes an airport clerk and steals the coffin, a bizarre chase ensues, with Larry (who’s tagged along to look after ‘Bernice’) blissfully unaware of what’s going on…

Knoxville Reveals Hidden Depths

Knoxville is excellent in his first serious lead – his constant hangdog expression and unswerving loyalty to his friend’s wishes make him an endearing character you really root for. (As a point of trivia, the real Phil Kaufman was so impressed with Knoxville that he donated the actual Sin City leather jacket he wore at the time).

In support, Applegate is superb as always, though she doesn’t really have much to do. Shannon, however, is hilarious, his permanently-stoned expression doing most of the acting for him. Forster is superb too – the scene where he realises he was never really there for his son and the resulting decision he makes is extremely touching.

In short, Grand Theft Parsons is an unexpectedly lovely little film that is quite possibly destined for Future Cult Movie status. It’s funny and moving and has a superb soundtrack as well as sweet performances from its cast. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 29/02/2020 14:38

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