The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"A BIRDER'S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING"

A Birder's Guide to Everything

There haven't been a lot of movies about birdwatching. I can think of The Big Year and then...nothing. It may therefore sound like faint praise when I say that A Birder's Guide to Everything is the best birdwatching movie ever made, but it's really not faint praise at all. This is quite a good film. Of course, it's also about much more than birdwatching, but that's part of the appeal.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) plays David Portnoy, a teenage birdwatching enthusiast still reeling from the death of his mother. He has a tenuous relationship with his father (James LeGros) who's about to remarry. David and his two best friends, Timmy (Alex Wolff) and Peter (Michael Chen), are the sole members of their high school birdwatching society. No one pays them much attention, but they see a possibility for greatly increased popularity when David sights what he believes is a breed of duck thought to be extinct. The guys consult with a local expert, Lawrence Konrad (Ben Kingsley), then head on a road trip to track the duck down, a female classmate named Ellen (Katie Chang) in tow. That the trip will likely mean missing his father's wedding is not entirely a concern for David.

A Birder's Guide to Everything isn't so much about whether or not the kids find the duck as it is about David coming to terms with his mother's death and figuring out a way to ask his dad a question that's been bothering him for a long time. Because his mother taught him everything he knows about birdwatching, looking for the duck brings a lot of feelings to the surface, making him feel close to her, but also making it painfully obvious that she's no longer there. The way director/co-writer Rob Meyer has this scenario play out is enticing, in that the plot draws a parallel between birdwatching and seeking something inside of oneself in David's case, emotional resolution. What happens isn't entirely tied into a neat little bow; the story recognizes that healing is a process that takes time and is measured in small steps.

For a movie that's largely about death, Birder's Guide is far from depressing. It's certainly touching, and Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a sensitive, affecting performance as a lost teenager, but it's also quite funny. Alex Wolff who was so good in the recent HairBrained provides effective comic relief, as does Ben Kingsley, playing the man who is both likely and unlikely mentor to the kids. The movie makes sure to insert humor at just the right moments to lighten the mood, without overdoing it to the point where all meaning is lost. James LeGros deserves mention, as well, very poignantly playing the father who has to wise up about the way his own grieving process interferes with his son's.

A few scenes feel a little forced, most notably those involving two adversaries who keep popping up to irritate David, and a few others might have been richer or deeper had they been allowed to go on a bit longer. (The film runs a mere 86 minutes.) In spite of those minor quibbles, A Birder's Guide to Everything remains a sweet, gentle, and humorous movie with winning performances across the board. It leaves you with a warm feeling inside.

( out of four)


A Birder's Guide to Everything is rated PG-13 for language, sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.


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