Film Review: Busman’s Holiday

Busman’s Holiday

A “Busman’s Holiday” refers to spending one’s vacation days much the same as you do your vocation days (i.e. a lifeguard relaxing at the beach). That’s not exactly what’s happening in Austin Smithard’s sophomore narrative feature. But when retired NYC cop Michael Busman (Jamie McShane) has no reason to decline a free trip around the world in pursuit of a missing teenaged relation, it’s not long before he finds himself outside of both his time zone and his comfort zone. Smithard’s script is an engaging existential meditation on life, love, travel, unfulfilled dreams, and forgiveness. But it doubles as a virtual field trip for anyone who has missed getting on a plane and waking up somewhere new.

Michael Busman doesn’t even want to even leave his bed let alone the country. But his cousin, Warren, knows that Michael doesn’t have much going on in his life he needs a big favor. Their distant uncle’s 19-year-old daughter, Suzi, didn’t return from her worldwide trek. Local law enforcement say they have no reason to suspect foul play, but the parents just know something is wrong. Busman is reticent to take on the search, but since his wife has recently split, he realizes it’s actually a good time for him to get out of Dodge. He soon finds himself in Ireland, interviewing his distraught relations, Brendan and Joan. Suzi sent postcards from every destination, but the last one they received says she was going to double back to some of the places she’d already visited. That was 2 months ago and they haven’t heard from her since. She’s not using the credit card, her phone is disconnected, and she’s gone dark on the socials. Michael decides that the best way to find her is to retrace her steps as closely as possible, which means traversing thousands of miles across the likes of Norway, India, Tanzania, and Italy.

This film unfolds like a TV drama bottle episode featuring a supporting character. Indeed, McShane is known for such roles on Bloodline, Bosch, and Southland. He plays Busman as a man in transition. He thought he had the rest of his life mapped out. But his wife’s departure threw his whole worldview into turmoil. While Michael is searching for a missing girl, he finds himself along the way. Cheesy though that sounds, it plays out subtly in the film. Michael begins to see the journey through Suzi’s eyes as he meets the people who will never forget her. Reluctant though he may be to move forward with the rest of his life, his search for Suzi forces him to let go of his past and embrace the present. Suzi narrates from some omniscient source that’s too detailed and confessional to be the brief postcards she sent to her parents. We never see how Busman reacts to her thoughts, though we can’t help but contrast her lust for life with his more jaded view.

Suzi’s spirit haunts every scene, though we barely get a glimpse of the girl herself. We can make out a shadow from the voiceover and the wistful looks in the eyes of those she touched in her travels. You never forget that this story is really about someone else. Someone we don’t see. Not even in photographs, really. She’s just vanished, but she’s memorable enough to have touched the lives of the people she met, even though they all seem certain their chapter in her life is over. Personally, I would have preferred to see the story from Suzi’s point of view, but I get that this was the story Smithard wanted to tell and the way that he felt he could tell it most effectively. It’s probably for the best when middle-aged men stick to what they know rather than try to speak for young women. I just get a little tired of stories about missing/dead girls as catalysts to male growth. Nothing against Smithard and his script. I can see this film, and especially McShane’s performance resonating with a demographic that more closely resembles Busman, rather than Suzi.

Shot on location before the world shut down, Busman’s Holiday offers a rare glimpse at some of the world’s most beautiful and remote places. It’s filmed like a travelogue with postcard-perfect cinematography. The really nice postcards that your mom would want to buy and frame. Smithard worked and studied alongside Steven Spielberg before making this film that he has deemed his cinematic swan song. As far as magnum opuses are concerned, this is a noble effort.

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