Netflix rates it: 3.5/5
I rate it: 4/5
Based on director Rob Meyer’s previous short film Aquarium, A Birder’s Guide to Everything follows a young group of birders as they take on the challenge of finding the presumed extinct Labrador duck. After a possible sighting, David (Kodi Smit-McPhee) snaps a photo, only to be told better evidence must be found before he makes history with his discovery. Teaming up with fellow birders Peter (Michael Chen) and Timmy (Alex Wolff), and new-girl photographer Ellen (Katie Chang), they embark on a road trip the day before David’s father’s remarriage. Punctuated with beautiful vintage-style camera footage of a younger David and his now-deceased mother, there is a great contrast between life before and after her death shown.
The main cast members portray their characters remarkably, capturing the charming awkwardness and inexperience of teenage years in what appears to be an effortless way. The audience are easily able to engage and empathise with Smit-McPhee’s character due to the realistic nature of his performance, which makes an already enjoyable film even more so.
Often, stereotypes such as ‘nerds’ or ‘losers’ are used negatively in films featuring teenage characters, but here it is refreshing to see them used in a non-judgemental, even proud, fashion. The main characters are definitely not winning popularity contests, one even completes a popular girl’s homework so she will pay him attention, but the film is not mocking their social standing as many others have in the past. Where knowledge is regularly portrayed in films as ‘nerdy,’ here the characters strive to know more than the others, which is interesting to see. Because the main characters are outcasts and see the world in a unique way, this film almost seems like Bridge to Terabithia aimed at a much older audience.
Don’t be fooled, A Birder’s Guide to Everything is not just about birding as the title would suggest. In fact, the hobby of birding is really not the most important element of the film by any means; being clueless about it did not take any enjoyment out of watching. The basics are covered to give some background, and no more than that is necessary as the underlying plot of the film seems to focus more on growing up, and the obstacles that come with it. Humorous moments are peppered throughout, and although some of these do not work as well as others, this does not impact the film in a negative way.
A Birder’s Guide to Everything is a classic coming-of-age story with a wonderfully unique premise, and is definitely worth watching, whether a fan of birding or not. The natural world is showcased throughout, and it is a pleasant change to see this rather than a film focused on technology. The storyline emphasises the true meaning of friendship and family, with David not getting along very well with his father but coming through for him anyway and sticking by his friends throughout their adventure. Meyer does a fantastic job overall of directing a charmingly distinctive film that can be appreciated by viewers of all ages.