You may never have heard of Gram Parsons, but in his day, he was viewed as being one of the most influential musicians to ever have lived. He was twisted and bitter and a genius, a man who hung out with the greats before finally dying of an overdose in the early 1970s, in true “rock and roll legend” style. But it was what happened next that he has come to be most remembered for.
His road manager and friend, Phil Kaufman, did everything in his power to ensure that Gram’s last wish was fulfilled. He wanted to be cremated in the desert. To do this, involved Kaufman ending up driving a hearse (a brightly painted one at that) into the wilderness with a corpse aboard, driven by a drugged up hippy. Though the film is happy to mention that certain details have been elaborated for the purposes of dramatic license, this really is “all based on a true story”, a typical and somehow perfect ending to an extraordinary life.
Though the subject matter might sound a bit heavy, this is in truth an incredibly heart-warming film, about friendship and loyalty, and is also brilliantly funny. The tight and witty script is aided by some truly magnificent performances. Johnny Knoxville breaks out of his gangster stereotyping with his portrayal of Kaufman himself, a man with a great deal of integrity and a true friendship, which Knoxville portrays with great skill and sensitivity, as well as knowing how to get the laughs. Christina Applegate is also rather marvellous as Gram’s ex, driven by the desire to screw as much cash out of his estate as possible.
The big stand out though is Michael Shannon as the hippy driver and Kaufman’s increasingly confused and scared companion in his quest to fulfil his friend’s last wish. The direction is pacey and assured with some gorgeous cinematography out in the desert, showing off its bleak splendour. Grand Theft Parsons is a wonderful and moving film, a must watch, you’ll love it!
Director: David Caffrey
Writers: Jeremy Drysdale (story), David Caffrey (story), and 1 more credit »
Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Christina Applegate and Marley Shelton
Release Date: 19 March 2004 (UK)