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A Birder's Guide to Everything - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
A Birder's Guide to Everything
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

Portraying teenagers on film can be a bit of a catch-22: if they are at all interesting, they are totally unrealistic; but if they are realistic, they aren't that interesting. Only the ridiculously precocious kids in movies tend to be all that much fun. So to present kids in a true but engaging way is to walk a fine line indeed.

A Birder's Guide to Everything is a little like Stand By Me but with kids roaming the woods for a bird instead of a body. There's no sensationalistic vomit scene either, although there is a scare with the kid who has asthma. This movie isn't destined to be any kind of beloved classic, but it's infused with a sweetness that works well for it.

These four kids, three boys and one girl, are all about fifteen years old. The one we are meant to care most about is David (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a member of his school's Young Birder's Society, or A.B.S., and whose father is about to marry the woman who was his dead mother's nurse. The A.B.S. has all of two other members, David's best friend Timmy (Alex Wolff) and the chairman of the group, Peter (Michael Chen). The girl comes into the picture when she refuses to lend the A.B.S. a school telephoto lens camera for their overnight birding trip unless they let her tag along and be the one to take the photos of the bird they're looking for.

The bird is a species of duck known to be extinct, but David thinks he may have spotted a live specimen -- which of course is cause for excitement. The boys take David's own very blurry photo of the bird, spotted while out on his bike, to a revered and semi-famous birder named Lawrence Konrad (Ben Kingsley, displaying a kind of reserved charm), who concedes there is evidence, however extremely minor, in the photo that it is the bird they're looking for. Lawrence clearly thinks they may be on to something, because the kids run into him in the area of Connecticut he told them the bird would be likely to migrate to, should it actually exist. Instead of it turning the movie into a predictably farcical competition between the kids and an older man with a case of arrested development, they actually fairly quickly join forces and search together.

One might call this a coming-of-age story, but it really exists in its own realm, with a unique, if somewhat unpolished, vision. These are the kinds of kids that are portrayed with realism, which means they often walk a fine line between being compelling and just being dull. David, who is using this trip to avoid thinking about his father's imminent marriage only a year and a half after the death of his mother, doesn't exactly grow up over one weekend. He simply discovers a capability for maturity, which is really the way coming-of-age movies should be.

David's relationship with his father isn't quite as fleshed out as it could be, and James Le Gros, as the dad, is a little stiff in delivery. This is the relationship on which the plot ultimately hinges, but it's David's friendship with the other kids that comes across as far more genuine. (Even Lawrence Konrad, the other major adult character, is a little contrived.) It's really the kids that matter, though, and they are all evocative of the fragile innocence of the middle-teen years. The young actors are each of them very talented, with a nuanced understanding of the way young vapidity can suddenly break into small emotional insights. As an added bonus, the kids are all of the nerdy variety -- and not the "cool nerd" type -- yet they are treated with respect, even when they take their A.B.S. "meeting minutes" way too seriously. There's never any insinuation that there's anything wrong with them being exactly who and what they are.

A Birder's Guide to Everything has just the right amount of charm, delivering a few chuckles, as well as a tear or two. It's a quiet movie that will likely be easily forgotten, but the more you think about it, the more unfortunate that seems.

(L-R) Michael Chen, Katie Chang, Alex Wolff, and Kodi Smit-McPhee are all on a nerdy field trip in A BIRDER'S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING.

Overall: B+
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