A Birder's Guide to Everything: Tribeca Review
A teen searches for an extinct Labrador Duck in Rob Meyer's feature debut.
NEW YORK — A teen tries to keep his dead mother's memory alive by embracing her ornithological obsessions in Rob Meyer's A Birder's Guide to Everything, leading to an impromptu bird hunt that threatens to demolish his relationship with his surviving parent. Appearances by James Le Gros and Ben Kingsley in supporting roles should attract some attention to this heartfelt small film, whose familiar emotional beats shouldn't prevent it from being enjoyed by viewers who share its passions.
David (Kodi Smit-McPhee), still grieving two years after his mother's death, resents the happiness his father (LeGros) has found with the nurse who cared for her (Daniela Lavender). The couple will be married tomorrow, with David a reluctant best man.
But when David spots what may be a species of duck believed extinct for over a hundred years, he and the Young Birders Society -- two bird-crazy boys and new recruit Ellen (Katie Chang), whose camera is needed to document the discovery -- steal a cousin's car to try to track it to the next stop on its migratory path. The expedition will surely keep David from the wedding, and may put him at odds with legendary birder Lawrence Konrad, who offers friendly advice at first but is tempted to steal the glory of their find. (As Konrad, Kingsley gnaws at the scenery less avidly than he often has recently, though he hardly lets himself blend into the foliage.)
The quartet of high schoolers is a fairly stock crew: The uptight Asian (Michael Chen), hormonal joker (Alex Wolff), and bright-eyed love interest (Chang) all foils to Smit-McPhee's shy late-bloomer. But each actor fills his role nicely, and they have enough chemistry to animate the routine pitfalls this road trip has in store for them.
The picture offers fewer bird sightings than serious enthusiasts may expect, but Meyer and Luke Matheny's script is full of the kind of nit-picky detail one hears when birders converse, and milks some life lessons out of philosophical differences between "listers" and "watchers." A sympathetic turn by Le Gros, as a man who thinks he's doing right by his son but is tone-deaf to his emotional needs, helps ground the domestic side of things, lest the pursuit of a Labrador Duck obscure the real source of our wounded hero's fixations.