A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING – The Review
Birds are fascinating creatures. This is true, but most people take birds for granted, so many of them flying about overhead. Birds are everywhere, and as creepy as that thought may be to some, they are always watching over us, constant spectators of the human experience below. Her on planet Earth, we go though life struggling primarily to answer two questions… who am i and what should I do with this life i have?
It’s no wonder there are some drawn in by a fascination for these feathered friends of ours. Those who watch, track and seek out birds of all species are generally referred to as “birders.” The term’s definition may be argued by some, including those in the film A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING. Directed and co-written by Rob Meyer, this film is a coming of age story about an awkward 15-year old boy named David Portnoy.
David, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, is grieving the loss of his mother, even as his father Donald plans his upcoming marriage to Juliana. David struggles with this rapid change in his family life. As a way to distract himself, and perhaps feel closer to his late mother, David takes up birding with two fellow enthusiasts at his school. David’s mother was a birder and accomplished researcher in the field and David shows a compelling level of knowledge and passion for the hobby in general.
A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING is not about birds. Yes, the film contains many references to birds, jokes about birds, even bird metaphors, but the film is about David dealing with his teenage emotions regarding loss, love and growing up. Donald, played by James Le Gros, is understanding and patient at first, but as his wedding approaches he becomes less tolerant of David’s birding ways. Juliana, played by Daniela Lavender, was the nurse who cared for David’s dying mother. Despite her caring, warm spirit and genuine love for Donald and David, this fact clearly makes the situation that more unnerving and difficult to grapple with for David.
David’s journey of self-discovery begins, by chance, as he spots what he believes to be an extinct species of duck. Having snapped a blurry photo f the mystery bird, David seeks the opinion of renowned birder Lawrence Konrad, played by veteran actor Sir Ben Kingsley. David then enlists the help of his small school birding club to find the elusive bird and make what could be the greatest birding find of his generation. Along with his two nerdy birding companions, of whom have equivalent social personalities of Sheldon and Howard from The Big Bang Theory, they reluctantly allow Ellen, a student photographer, to accompany in exchange for the use of her telephoto lens.
Ellen, played by Katie Chang, clearly has an interest in David early on, but it takes some time and circumstances for David’s eyes to open and for the teenage hormones to kick in, despite Ellen’s thinly veiled, but equally awkward efforts to test the terrain. Together, the four adventurers head out into the Connecticut woods from New York in an older teenager’s “borrowed” convertible. Some mishaps occur on the way, but the journey allows for the viewer to get a strong sense of what David is going through, internally and with those around him. Chang’s mellow, almost neutral performance compliments Smit-McPhee’s uneasiness. Chang gives Ellen a nerdy, but confident worldly edge which plays well against, and ultimately alongside the textbook skinny, socially awkward David.
As usual, Ben Kingsley is a joy to watch. Invoking his trademark vocal traits and mannerisms, Kingsley lends a role model type figure to David’s story. This is crucial, especially since his father is preoccupied with his upcoming wedding. A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING feels a bit like STAND BY ME, only nerdier, and without a dead body. One thing the film succeeds at is showcasing the birding hobby as a storytelling device, much in the way THE BIG YEAR did, starring Jack Black and Steve Martin, except with a more intimate, realistic approach that allows the film to feel more dramatically accurate, whereas THE BIG YEAR just felt like a vehicle for blockbuster comedy.
The small, independent spirit of A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING carries a lot of weight for the film as the script is lacking in areas. Some of the more emotional moments in the story fall a little flat, perhaps partially due to a mostly young cast, but writing is always where these issues begin. Visually, the film does not feel amateurish and the film is accompanied by an equally enjoyable soundtrack, which also conveys a similar independent spirit. This independent spirit is another character trait of David’s, and perhaps what makes his story so intriguing.
A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING does not break any boundaries. It does not redefine any genres, nor is cause for any controversy. The film is simply a pleasant exploration of a boy’s journey from innocence to an opening of himself to what can be, what will be and what is most important in life.
A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING is currently available on Video On Demand and in Theaters beginning Friday, March 21st, 2014.