David Portnoy, a fifteen-year-old birding fanatic, thinks that he's made the discovery of a lifetime. So, on the eve of his father's remarriage, he escapes on an epic road trip with his ...
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David Portnoy, a fifteen-year-old birding fanatic, thinks that he's made the discovery of a lifetime. So, on the eve of his father's remarriage, he escapes on an epic road trip with his best friends to solidify their place in birding history.Written by
The film teen birders have been waiting for but not expecting
Since maybe 2011 (around the time The Big Year was released), it seems that the sport or birding (known informally and incorrectly by many people as "bird-watching") has been flirting with mainstream recognition. An abundance of films on the topic have been made within the last few years, and basic research on my behalf shows birding events occurring all over the world.
"Absolutely anyone can be a birder. Except for blind people, I suppose," Ben Kingsley's character in A Birder's Guide to Everything, the latest entry in "birding cinema," if there were such a thing. The film stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as David Portnoy, a fifteen-year-old who loves birding and believes he has spotted a Labrador Duck, a species which is believed to have gone extinct. He snaps a blurry but somewhat discernible picture that erects hope that the bird is migrating to a common migration point that, of course, requires a coming-of-age road trip with some buds. David brings his assorted, quirky band of pals such as the rambunctious Timmy (Alex Wolff of The Naked Brothers Band fame), the awkward and asthmatic Peter (Michael Chen), and the group's crush Ellen (Katie Chang), pretty much because she's a female as they drive down in a buddy's car he technically didn't consent to loaning. If you're wondering where Kingsley comes in, he plays a birding expert, adding another element of diversity to his long-successful acting career.
The reasons for chasing the bird are aplenty. A good part of the reason is the team's love and fondness for nature and the outdoors, but, according to Timmy, the benefit is that proving that the Labrador Duck is actually a living species will help them "fame-wise, money-wise, and vagina-wise." I almost forgot to mention A Birder's Guide to Everything's deals with some complex themes such as birding and the functionality of teenage hormones. The latter needs no explanation as to why I believe it's complex, but I believe birding is one of the most difficult sports around because of the fact that I think it would be hard or next to impossible to hold down a full-time job while being an avid birder. You have to be willing to travel all over the world in hopes of spotting a rare bird just for a few seconds, which will hopefully be another time for you to snap a clear picture of your subject.
The film is another one of those contemporary coming-of-age films that follow a group of eclectic characters as they try to understand their position in life and what they're destined for in the real world. This usually helps when they have unstable homelives and are fascinated with an arbitrary topic such as birding. I use a tone of sarcasm here because of the fact that while A Birder's Guide to Everything really doesn't do anything wrong, these contemporary coming-of-age films are only a hair away from becoming a cliché. While I scarcely tire of films centered around teens and their struggles, many of these films are beginning to mesh together, what with last year's The Kings of Summer and Mud having very similar premises, despite both being brilliant films. If these films continue to be made with the same kind of quirky formula, eventually they will lose their uniqueness and become as cliché as the films centered around the nerdy guy getting the gorgeous girl.
Even with this idea, A Birder's Guide to Everything is still a wholesome little exercise, smart, genial, and utilizes its PG-13 rating with plausibility. I always fear coming-of-age films with PG-13 ratings because that ultimately means sexual content and language are kept to a minimum, which is simply not reality in many teenagers' lives today. However, this film utilizes it conservatively but believably, not making the subject matter go out of its way to be offensive nor neuter itself to the realm of not being believable.
It's also easy to appreciate the work by Kodi Smit-McPhee along with Alex Wolff, who got his start on the Nickelodeon program The Naked Brothers Band (but the less said about that the better). Both Smit-McPhee and Wolff have true potential to go on to be strong, capable actors in a wide-variety of work. Smit-McPhee portrays listless but not helpless in a way that works in a way that doesn't feel like a pitiful cry for cheap sympathy, and Wolff's energy and controlled goofiness carry his character.
Then there's the fact that A Birder's Guide to Everything effectively illustrates how one man's passion is another man's bewilderment, seeing as David's father (James Le Gros) has no concept nor practical knowledge to how his son's fervent love for birding works. It's hardly uncommon for parents to be struggling at trying to identify their children's hobbies, especially in the tumultuous world we live in today, where the likes and dislikes of kids grow increasingly peculiar thanks to things like the internet. Co-writer/director Rob Meyer and Luke Matheny illustrate this by telling it like it is; David's father has no idea (or real interest) in what his son likes.
A Birder's Guide to Everything is often just as odd as its title, but its warmness, depiction of an offbeat hobby, its quirky but realistic line of characters, and instances that beautifully detail birding and teen hormones are filled with all the tenderness and heart needed to make a project like this succeed as a whole.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex Wolff, Michael Chen, Katie Chang, James Le Gros, and Ben Kingsley. Directed by: Rob Meyer.
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