Written by Guillaume Bréaud and Pascale Ferran
Directed by Pascale Ferran
There’s no easy way to write about Bird People without spoiling the ostensible magic and surprise it so valiantly strives for. Cut dead in the middle between depicting the mundane and the thrilling occurrences between two people at a modern and disconnected hotel in Paris, Pascale Ferran’s (Lady Chatterley) film aims to be ambitious and magical but never quite comes together as it should, often feeling incomplete and insubstantial in the process. Opening with a playful prologue that includes different people on a commuter train, we quickly eavesdrop as they play on their phones, listen to music, and engage in conversation. It’s a curious way to start things off as it suggests the random importance of these brief human snippets that we drop in on but never revisit.
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The film eventually settles into its two-part structure. The first part, entitled ‘Gary,’ focuses on an overworked American businessman (Josh Charles) from San Jose who’s just in town for a few days before he’s off to Dubai to finalize a crucial deal he’s working on for his company. Out of nowhere and without any explanation, Gary is hit with a case of mounting anxiety that causes him to skip his flight. Time seems to come to a halt for Gary who begins to quietly ruminate on his life; he passes the time by staring out of his hotel window, smoking cigarettes, and casually consuming mini bottles of booze.
Soon enough, Gary quits his job, decides to leave his wife (Radha Mitchell), seen via a lengthy and sobering Skype conversation which is hands-down the best scene in the film. As he puts it, “I’m a lump of sugar at the bottom of cup.” A lifestyle change is in order as Gary also announces that he’s going to stay in Paris without any concrete plans. He fields calls from co-workers and bosses who can’t fathom his decision, but Gary makes it abundantly clear that his choice is final and that no one can convince him otherwise.
Eating up the film’s first hour, Gary’s chapter manages to stay involving and mysterious due to Charles’ lived-in performance as a corporate drone that yearns for some unspecified change by ditching his comfortable lifestyle and his family. The slow pacing is agreeable and it’s unclear of what we should expect, but it’s an absorbing and nimble vignette that only raises our expectations of what will come during the film’s rather predictable second half. Only in retrospect will Gary’s autonomy seem less interesting and rewarding. But it’s only one part of a dual puzzle as the film’s second chapter goes for something far more diverting and adventurous. The results fail to compel as the film shifts its focus to Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier), a maid who cleans Gary’s room and one who achieves an inexplicable change that exposes her to previously unfelt liberty; you either bask in the unexpected jolt that screenwriters Guillaume Bréaud and Ferran introduce or you don’t, a risk that can be viewed as both admirable and silly.
As it turns out, Ferran’s heart is in the right place, but Bird People winds up functioning as a film that wants to soar high with its energetic spirit but winds up feeling far less daring in the process. There are some truly dazzling special effects featured in the film, but even they succumb to the weightless whimsy that Bird People is steeped in. Ferran even throws in a tidy epilogue for good measure, but by then the film’s potential has already been squandered. As a free-wheeling take on human connection, Bird People leaves a lot on the table with its slim characterizations and novel approach, managing to say very little in the process. It’s a film that will have its loyal backers in due time, and admittedly one that is fairly harmless; yet, the film’s unvarnished goofiness proves to be a formidable deal breaker.
— Ty Landis