GIVE ME LIBERTY (2019)
Chris Galust, Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, Max Stoianov, Steve Wolski, Michelle Caspar, Ben Derfel
Directed by Kirill Mikhanovsky
While one might get the impression that 90s director Jan De Bont (“Speed”) came out of retirement to helm indie film “Give Me Liberty” it’s actually the sophomore feature by Russian born director Kirill Mikhanovsky whose 2007 debut “Sonhos De Peixe (Fish Dreams)” won the Prix Regard Jeune award at the Cannes Film Festival. Filmed in Milwaukee with a cast of unknown actors and non-professionals, GML tells the story of a young medical transport driver (Chris Galust) who races around the city to deliver a group of seniors to a funeral while befriending a Russian boxer (Max Stoianov) and a young headstrong woman with ALS played by Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, a YouTube disability lifestyle influencer.
Newcomer Chris Galust was discovered in a bakery buying a cake to celebrate his grandfather’s immigration from Russia to the United States. He plays Vic, a medical transport driver with a heart of gold who lives with his senile grandfather. Vic’s grandpa loves to cook but he’s been banned from the kitchen for nearly burning it down. Galust delivers a natural performance and he has the Hollywood look, a familiar face that you can’t quite place. It’s an impressive debut for the former electrician from Brighton Beach.
YouTube personality Lauren “Lolo” Spencer plays Tracy, a vibrant and outspoken young lady confined to a wheelchair who works as an advocate to help people with disabilities. Today she’s headed across town with client Steve (Steve Wolski) in the hopes of helping him attain a job. Tracy and Steve are Vic’s only scheduled pick up for today however when a group of senior citizens heading out to a funeral gets stranded by another driver Vic offers them a ride in his van and the chaos begins.
Mikhanovsky does a terrific job of creating a frantic atmosphere putting the audience in the van with the rest of the eccentric cast. Vic encounters one roadblock after another as he zips across Milwaukee while the senior citizens sing traditional songs accompanied by an accordion player. Meanwhile, Tracy keeps reminding Vic that she needs to get Steve to that employment meeting ASAP while another passenger needs to get to a talent show to perform “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. To add to the madness Vic’s boss keeps radioing in every few minutes asking for his location.
Adding comic relief to the story, Max Stoianov plays a Russian boxer who tries to keep the mood positive when the passengers get too anxious. While most of the film takes place in the transport van there are scenes in the home of Vic’s piano teacher mother and in the apartment of a bedridden middle-aged man (James Watson) listed in the credits as Vic’s confidant. He offers advice to the young driver while puffing on a cigarette and despite his condition, the confidant remains upbeat calling life “beautiful.” The scenes which bookend the film serve as a reminder to embrace life even on your worst days.
“Give Me Liberty” was inspired by Mikhanovsky’s life. When he moved to the US in the 90s one of his first jobs was a medical transport driver. The film co-written by producer Alice Austen is funny, charming, and refreshing.