A Birder’s Guide to Everything
Directed by: Rob Myer. Starring: Ben Kingsley, Kodi Smit McPhee, James le Gros
In charming home-movie style, a hand-held camera is used for the opening scene, and viewer interest switches between the significant relationship depicted between mom and boy, and the relationship they both have to birds, which is highlighted by the sketches of birds which are interspersed throughout the scene. This transitions to a shot of a teen boy, birdwatching from a window. With no explanation, or back story, the teen boy’s dad appears and it’s clear he wants to marry someone called Juliana, who son David, does not approve of. In the hopes of sighting a rare bird, and indirectly voicing a message of displeasure, David heads to the woods with his friends a couple of days before his dad is due to re-marry. It from this point on, that the movie takes flight, and soars … metaphorically.
A Birder’s Guide to Everything falls cleanly into a coming-of-age genre, with enough comic moments to tip it into comedy, too. The way in which teens are portrayed in this film is done in a way which is real and authentic. The group of kids are so likeable in their concerns, delights and vacillations between adult actions and childlike naiveté, that it’s impossible not to care about them. The film also succeeds in making something as nerdy as being a ‘twitcher’, into something cool, interesting and fun. As Dr Konrad (Ben Kinsley) says, “Absolutely anyone can be a birder … except for blind people.”
Some of the highlights for me were: the montage in the attic, as David sorts through junk, which uses time lapse photography, and which then segues back in time, into a ‘mom’ memory. I also enjoyed the use and explanation of the term ‘dork baiting’; it means when a beautiful girl is super nice to a nerdy guy to ensure he’ll be willing to fix her computer, do her maths homework (called being a math hobbit) and worship her, so she can feel good about herself. The script presents refreshingly accurate dialogue of the teens acknowledging their lack of sexual experience, and their use of bragado to cover it up – we’ve all seen it being done, even if we haven’t made those sorts of claims ourselves. The scene of the campfire in the woods has excellent acting that portrays a sweet, teen awkwardness that should ring a bell of remembrance for every adult viewer.
By the end of the film, you will feel connected to this band of friends: nerdy David who still grieves the loss of his mother; typically ‘proper’ asthmatic Asian, Peter; sex-crazed Semite, Timmy; and the ‘perpetual new girl’ Ellen, (who provides the boys with an opportunity to ‘educate’ the viewer, via educating her, the newb). If you are looking for another sensitive portrayal of growing up, like Stand by Me, this is the film to see. Thematically, you’ll also leave with the message that it’s okay to make a mistake, to get fired up about something that takes you in the wrong direction, because as long as you have a big enough soul to acknowledge your mistake and then seek to rectify it, you’ll be okay. And don’t those of us who are more mature viewers, know that to be true!