A bizarre footnote in the annals of music history forms the basis for this low-budget comedy, based on real-life events so strange they have to be true.
For the uninitiated, Gram Parsons was a hugely influential artist who helped shape the Rolling Stones and the Byrds before dying of a morphine and tequila overdose at the tender age of 26. But it's what happened to him after his death that drives this lo-fi road movie, an endearing story of loyalty, friendship and DIY cremation.
Admittedly, some of the details have been changed. Screenwriter Jeremy Drysdale pairs up manager Phil Kaufman (played with surprising subtlety by Jackass clown Johnny Knoxville) with dope-fiend pal Larry (Michael Shannon) in order to engineer an Easy Rider-style double act. Having Gram's estranged but well-meaning dad (Jackie Brown's Robert Forster) track the pair into the desert ignores the fact that Parsons' real pa killed himself when his son was 12. And there's no mention of the singer's widow, though Christina Applegate does fill in as a gold-digging ex-girlfriend who needs the corpse to claim her share of his fortune.
However, such minor distortions only enhance the film's general celebration of rock'n'roll mythology, with Irish helmer David Caffrey (Divorcing Jack) cheerfully embracing the absurdity of two clueless wasters stealing a coffin from LAX Airport and whisking it away in a psychedelic yellow hearse. But while what follows has some laugh-out-loud moments (mostly provoked by Larry's inability to pass an obstacle without hitting it), it's the quieter moments of introspection and remembrance that truly stand out.
Knoxville, wearing Kaufman's own `Sin City' leather jacket, makes a credible dramatic lead, though he wisely takes something of a back seat to Shannon's hilarious hippy antics. It's such a fine comic partnership that Caffrey's movie loses momentum whenever they're off-screen - - though this could be down to Applegate's tiresome shrew routine and Forster's somnambulist approach to his underwritten character.
The soundtrack, needless to say, is as good as it gets, combining Parsons' own songs (including the classic `Return Of The Grievous Angel') with more contemporary tracks from Bruce Springsteen and Primal Scream.
The budget may be small, but this wacky tale of rock'n'roll undertakers has a big heart. The most fun you'll ever have watching a coffin burn.
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