A Birder’s Guide to Everything – Overview/ Review (with Spoilers)

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Overview

A year and a half after a boy’s mother dies, his father remarries and with his dad partly moving on, the son decides to go off and connect with his mom through the career she loved.

Review (with Spoilers)

For me, it is rather hard to pass up a film which seemingly will have Ben Kingsley interact with young actors. Taking note of his role in Hugo and The Wackness, I have quite admired his eccentric characters who play a sort of mentor to some usually odd, and lost, young adults. This isn’t to say though he is the only draw. Seeing Kodi Smitt-McPhee after his appearance in the Let The Right One In remake is also a bonus. Then, of course, you add Katie Chang from The Bling Ring, and you have something which looks quite good on paper. Question is, though, does it deliver?

Characters & Story

David (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a 15/16-year-old boy who would easily come off as one of the odd kids in school, but seems very sweet. He and his friends Timmy (Alex Wolff) & Peter (Michael Chen) are avid bird enthusiast. Timmy though is a misogynist little crapper who puts on airs and graces like he is something worth talking about, while Peter is a bit more quiet, reserved, though seemingly can be pushed toward being brave. Something which becomes a needed quality as David thinks he discovers this extinct duck of which they go to Lawrence Konrad (Ben Kingsley) to get advice on.

Which is how the story begins. David’s love for birds was a gift from his mother who passed due to an unmentioned diagnosis you can only assume was cancer. And with her passing, and his dad marrying her nurse, this has caused some friction in the family. But when one with nature, it allows him, David, to reconnect with his mom’s spirit and it opens him up a bit. Though perhaps the only person he really conveys this to is Ellen (Katie Chang) who isn’t part of the Bird Watchers at first, but after David steals a camera lens from her to get a good picture of this duck, she decides to come along. With her original objective to be a photography credit, but as the movie goes on she ends up forming quite a bond with the boys, though especially David.

Thus giving us a film dealing with various adolescent problems without really overdramatizing anything, and just presenting things as they are: Difficult to work though, but somehow manageable.

Praise

As can be seen by looking through my archives, I have a love for films which focus on young adult issues. Especially when they seem to allow the actors to give authentic portrayals which seem like the writer/ director, and everyone involved, haven’t lost that sense of being young. And while I do boast about Kingsley involvement, which is rather small in comparison to the two aforementioned films, I think his presence really does help for it leads to discovery. Smitt-McPhee’s character is seemingly in a daze which he can only be brought out of when talking about birds. And between Kingsley and Chang’s character, they seem like the main ones who really try to open him up and succeed. Not to say Wolf’s character Timmy, David’s best friend, isn’t there for him, but you can see their bond is more so based on a mutual love of bird watching more than anything, even if David does tell Timmy stuff.

And I must admit I like how odd and complicated all the characters relationships are with each other, even their relationships not on screen. David’s relationship with his dad is complicated for he worries his dad cheated on his mom when she was sick, Timmy’s relationship with everyone is a bit complicated for not only is he a little pip-squeak but also because he seemingly is desperate for an attractive girl to validate him, even if it means him being used. Then when you add Ellen to the mix, as well as Konrad, we are allowed to see most of the characters as either flawed or just trying to navigate through life without ending up shipwrecked.

Criticism

The sad thing is, though, I feel Peter is not really allowed to develop much. Yes, Timmy coerces him, perhaps to impress Ellen, to be brave, but while we learn about David’s troubles, Ellen’s family issues/ background, and even see Timmy as a slightly complex character, I would argue that Peter is almost a token minority. I mean, while Peter does seem to grow by showing flashes of courage, and even getting a girl at the end of the movie, I just feel you don’t get to connect with him like the others. Thus leading to the token minority comment.

Overall: Worth Seeing

In all honesty, I am very much unable to fully decide whether to list this as TV Viewing or Worth Seeing, and I only say this because I strangely don’t feel any regret for missing this when it came out during the Tribeca Film Festival. For, as noted, this is a good movie and hits a lot of points which makes it highly admirable, but I guess because it seems more like what a film is supposed to be, in general, and does not excel and stand out, that is what leads me to feel that maybe it is perhaps something which should be labeled TV Viewing. However, even with performances which may not make you cry and all that, it is hard to dismiss the value of the film just because it doesn’t seem to be aiming for awards. For, to me, this is definitely something which is worth noting on the young actors’ filmographies, which is why its final label is worth seeing. For while it won’t be the best film for any involved, it does show their potential for future projects.

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