Ramblin’ Freak might not appear like it at first, but it’s one of the most emotionally moving films from this year’s SXSW Film Festival. I feel like I’ve been throwing out that phrase “emotionally moving” a lot with many of the film’s I’ve seen this year, but this one takes you by surprise by how emotional it can be. On the surface, Ramblin’ Freak looks like a quirky and weird journey about a young man driving cross-country with his cat to meet an infamous bodybuilder and documenting the entire thing, but there’s so much more to this story. The motivation behind Parker’s journey is heartbreaking as it is moving. I was expecting to like Ramblin’ Freak going in, but after the end of the film, I ended up kind-of loving it.
Parker Smith is a young man who lives here in Austin that has aspirations to become a filmmaker. After an unspeakable tragedy happens in his family, Parker buys a used video camera that features tons of footage from Gregg Valentino, the bodybuilder who calls himself the “Ramblin’ Freak” and is known as The Man Whose Arms Exploded. Parker feels that finding this tape is fate/destiny (It would be a spoiler if I gave that away), and sets upon a cross-country journey from Austin to New York with his cat along for the ride in his van.
I didn’t really know a whole lot about Ramblin’ Freak going in other than that Parker and I have several mutual friends (we were both interns at the Austin Film Society but he was a year or two before me) and they were telling everybody to go see this film at SXSW. I couldn’t make the first couple of screenings, but I did make the final screening of the film on the very last day of the Film Festival. I feel not only happy to have gotten around to seeing the film, but the film itself is a beautiful and moving little journey of a man struggling to come to terms with himself personally, but also coping with this unimaginable tragedy that’s happened in his life. I didn’t think I’d cry this hard going into the film, but it was hard to even hold back some of the tears once the credits began to roll.
Parker’s set-up for this film is really unique. He doesn’t have a crew or anybody else for that matter with him. The film is primarily a journey between him and his cat, and we get to meet some of Parker’s family and Gregg Valentino himself. He uses old camera equipment to shoot the film, which gives the film a low-fi but makes the tragedy and the story itself feel all the more personal. It’s a filmmaking choice that could’ve come off as pretentious if it was done by another filmmaker, but Parker’s story and this journey is compelling and emotional enough that it works without it ever feeling like a gimmick.
Ramblin’ Freak is a powerful, emotional, funny, weird, but a well-worth ride from beginning to end. Good luck not having cried your eyes out at the end of this film. I wish I could promote the other screenings of the film, but this is the final day of screenings for SXSW. If any news is reported about the release of this film for the rest of the world to see, I’ll be sure to let you know the first I hear of it. It might not appear like this at first, but Ramblin’ Freak is kind-of remarkable, and I think a lot of people would connect with this story and the journey that Parker goes through in this film. It’s one of my favorite films from SXSW, and I’m glad to have ended my fest with this film.