A Birder’s Guide to Everything
Directed by Rob Meyer
Written by Rob Meyer and Luke Matheny
A Birder’s Guide to Everything is a fairly standard coming of age story, but it has enough heart and creativity to make it something special.
Like many coming of age tales, this one deals with a young man coming to terms with a serious loss. David Portnoy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) still hasn’t moved on since the passing of his mother, and he is struggling with feelings of resentment toward his father (James Le Gros), who has decided to remarry. The day before the wedding, David leads a gang of fellow birding enthusiasts on a pursuit of a thought-to-be extinct species of duck, and their impossible errand quickly becomes a soul-searching mission with life lessons for everyone involved.
Without a doubt, the best thing this movie has going for it is the chemistry revealed by the group of awkward teenagers. It’s not unfair to think of them as types, the girl-obsessed jokester, the uptight inhaler-puffing academic, etc. But it’s how well they operate as a unit and the respect they consistently provide one another that makes them uniquely entertaining to watch. Their club has recently shrunk in membership down to the three, and the running gag of their very formal voting process turning out two against one never gets stale. While unanimous decisions seem rare for them, their enviable bond isn’t debatable, a testament to the significance of a shared passion to the forging of mutually supportive relationships.
Ben Kingsley shows up in the picture as an advisor and role model for the kids, and the film profits immensely from his participation, especially on a dramatic level. He imparts some wise words about the distinction between passion and obsession and eventually joins the team on their quest. Ellen Reeves (Katie Chang) also worms her way into the group by insisting she tag along if they want the use of the telegraphic camera lens she possesses. Ellen is a military brat who has never had a chance to form the kind of lasting friendship the boys share. Her feelings of isolation reinforce themes of brotherhood and belonging, and her presence also stirs up some contention amongst the tightly knit group but ultimately strengthens their dynamic.
A Birder’s Guide to Everything offers many poignant insights on the therapeutic value of community. The script is very funny and thankfully treats its somber moments with a light touch. Moreover, the nature photography is always stunning and lends a Thoreauvian spirituality to the proceedings.