AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2013
By Don Simpson | November 1, 2013
Director: Rob Meyer
Writers: Rob Meyer, Luke Matheny
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Katie Chang, James LeGros, Alex Wolff, Daniela Lavender, Briana Marin, Ethan Cohn, Stephen Kunken, Adam Barrie, Andy Prosky, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Michael Chen
Apparently, 2013 is the year in which the coming of age film has finally hit its stride. After years of navigating the spectrum between poignant and ridiculous, it seems as though filmmakers are finally discovering just how to balance quirky comedy with emotional honesty. With its uncanny knack for repeatedly tugging at heartstrings and inducing deep hearty laugher, often within the same scene, Rob Meyer’s Birder’s Guide to Everything nests itself perfectly within this revived species of the coming of age genre.
David (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a shy high school boy who is unable to accept the fact that his father (James Le Gros) is going to remarry, a mere year-and-a-half after his mother’s death. To make matters worse, his father is marrying the nurse (Daniela Lavender) who cared for his mother; so, not only does he believe that his father is moving on way too quickly, David is justifiably suspicious that his father may have been cheating on his ailing mother. Obviously a mama’s boy, David does not seem to have developed any sort of relationship with his relatively clueless father.
Still grieving from her passing, David has chosen to follow in his mother’s footsteps — as we later hear from a world-renowned birder (Ben Kingsley), David’s mother was an unsung hero of birding. David spends all of his free time birding, whether it be by himself or with the other two members of the high school’s Young Birders Society, Timmy (Alex Wolff) and Peter (Michael Chen). A cute kid, but still a bit too awkward and sexually naive to consider dating, David is utterly oblivious to the flirtatious advances of girls.
The unexpected catalyst for David’s maturation is his sighting of a presumed extinct species of bird. Actually, the jury is still out as to whether or not the bird truly is what David thinks it is, so David must enlist the Young Birders Society to assist him on a quest to track the bird. The quest serves multiple purposes. If David truly rediscovers an extinct bird, he would gain some much needed confidence (and fame); it would also serve was a way to pay tribute to his deceased mother. Additionally, the journey provides a much needed distraction from his father’s rapidly approaching wedding. First and foremost, however, it provides David an opportunity to spend some quality time with a cute girl — a photographer (Katherine Chang) who has been tasked to provide indisputable photographic evidence of David’s discovery.
While Birder’s Guide to Everything has no qualms about facing it’s birding metaphors head-on, it also does not hesitate to convey some serious messages about birding. Most importantly, Meyer drives home the distinction between “competitive” birders who merely want to count notches in their proverbial bedposts — anally listing every species they spot — and those who watch birds as a means of communing with nature.