Review written by Mike Fishman
I saw this film at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and happy to see it is getting some well-deserved attention. The latest film written and directed by Adam Rifkin and starring Burt Reynolds as Vic Edwards, an octogenarian actor who travels to the International Nashville Film Festival to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. The problem is, this is the (fictional) International Nashville Film Festival, not the much-admired and very real Nashville Film Festival and Edwards finds himself facing a mixed crowd of about 40 people (to their credit enthusiastic fans) in the backroom of a bar with a projector and a make-shift film screen. Some expected clichés are in evidence: the rundown motel room the festival booked for him; a drunken Edwards lashing out at at the festival staff; the protagonist in need of saving doing some saving himself; even a reconciliation with an old lover who has Alzheimer’s but who peers out clear-eyed from her cloudy mind at the right moments. But the quality of acting and the level of commitment from Burt Reynolds and co-star Ariel Winter as Lil, his reluctant, nose-ring wearing caretaker/chauffeur for the duration of the festival, bring to their roles make most scenes utterly believable and the film as a whole ultimately moving.
Rifkin (whose previous work ranges from the comedy Detroit Rock City to the gritty Night at the Golden Eagle) wrote the screenplay specifically for Reynolds. And one can see why the actor, reportedly looking for one last great role, would be game for boring deeply into the semi-autobiographical storyline. The film embraces the aging process with Reynolds, 81 years old himself, staring directly into the camera, and then humorously yet pointedly engaging his younger self in conversation in scenes from his actual films Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance, generally to warn him about the quick passage of time. It makes for a fascinating unveiling of a fictional life reflected by the actor’s real life. Shot differently, the film could have been a mockumentary.
Along the way we are treated to snapshots of Reynolds in his prime: spraying a can of whipped cream down Johnny Carson’s pants; conducting interviews in his trademark winking, self-deprecating style; and even his infamous nude pose for Cosmopolitan magazine, which the director interestingly utilizes onscreen while Lil soaks in a huge bathtub. Happily, the film goes nowhere near a romantic entanglement between the two, saving the real relationship complexities for a reunion with Claudia, his first of five wives (!), played by Kathleen Nolan. Vic and Lil “rescue” his now wheel-chair bound ex-lover from her nursing home, hurriedly wheeling her out to freedom with the staff nearly chasing after them. They take her to the picturesque spot where Vic had proposed to her decades and a lifetime ago. If this particular sequence sounds predictable, it is to a degree, but Reynolds’ palpable regret and Nolan’s unadorned responses make for a truly poignant and affecting scene. That such a powerful moment can occur within such a familiar framework is part of the magic of movies and the film gains impressive momentum and succeeds beyond expectation at ruefully portraying a man nearing the end of his road, lamenting the passage of time.