Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 1, 2010)
Despite a reasonably high-profile cast, Pretty Bird languished in release limbo for years. Shot in 2007, the movie didn’t get wide public display until its DVD issue in late June 2010.
Was it worth the wait? Not really; while not a total dud, Bird fails to qualify as a lost gem.
Curtis Prentiss (Billy Crudup) aspires to be an entrepreneur, and he wants to develop a “rocket belt” for personal use. He recruits his old pal Kenny Owenby (David Hornsby) to finance the effort and signs up unemployed scientist Rick Honeycutt (Paul Giamatti) as the brains behind the operation. They launch “Fantastic Technologies” and attempt to make their sci-fi dream a reality.
Going into Bird, I viewed its cast as a positive. Now that I’ve watched it, I must amend that attitude. Elsewhere, the actors have provided good work, but here, they seem miscast.
Actually, that’s mainly true in Crudup’s case. He plays a dope with a dream and an unflappable belief in himself. It’s an inherently simple, comedic role, and Crudup seems totally wrong for it. He displays little in the way of the chops necessary for this sort of personality, and he comes across like he’s doing an impersonation of a comedic actor.
I’ve liked Crudup elsewhere, but Bird needs an actual funnyman in the part. Maybe the filmmakers thought an actor with a dramatic background would add layers to the role, but this doesn’t occur. If anything, Crudup’s failed attempts to amuse rob the part of any depth; Crudup’s Curtis is a one-dimensional moron. Someone like Steve Carell or Jim Carrey might’ve done something with the character, but in Crudup’s hands, Curtis becomes nothing more than an unfunny annoyance.
At least Crudup’s performance matches the broad work of most of his castmates. On the other hand, Giamatti seems to be in a totally different movie. Though he attempts a few funny takes, he usually seems shockingly intense and gruff for a fairly light film such as this. Granted, Rick is supposed to be the realist of the bunch, but Giamatti’s darkness creates an odd contrast with the goofiness of the other actors. I actually think he gives us a good turn in isolation, but he just doesn’t fit into this particular movie.
Not that I’m sure what would fit in this melange of styles. I think co-writer/director Paul Schneider aspires for a Coen brothers vibe, but Bird tends to flirt with a variety of influences and never really settles in one place for very long.
Maybe Pretty Bird intends to lampoon all the inspirational movies about “impossible dreamers” and their quests. Or maybe it wants us to embrace its characters and root for them – at least until it takes an dark, absurd twist in the third act. Based on the end result, it’s tough to tell what the filmmakers wanted to do with the story – and I’m not even sure they know.