TIFF Next Wave 2014: A Birder’s Guide to Everything – Capsule Review

Director: Rob Meyer
Writers: Luke Matheny, Rob Meyer
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex Wolff, Michael Chen, Katie Chang, James Le Gros, Ben Kingsley
Rating: PG
Runtime: 88 minutes

Everyone loves a good adventure film, and Rob Meyer’s debut feature, A Birder’s Guide to Everything, is just such a film. The story follows David Portnoy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young high-schooler with an interest in bird watching – aka birding. When he thinks he has found a long-extinct bird, David takes his close friends and fellow birders Timmy Barsky (Alex Wolff) and Peter Nessbaum (Michael Chen) on a search to find it, with a little guidance from an oddball birding veteran, Lawrence Konrad (Ben Kingsley). They are joined on the journey, without being given much of a choice, by new girl on the block Ellen Reeves (Katie Chang). The film presents a refreshing new take on the coming-of-age genre, presenting simple and lovable characters with an uncomplicated story. The bird watching story is intriguing, and sparks curiosity not just in the film and the characters, but in the general subject as well. The performances are simple and sweet. Smit-McPhee, Wolff, Chen, and Chang portray their nerdy, typical-high-school characters with ease, letting the story flow. Smit-McPhee does a good job of reflecting the change in his character throughout the story, living up to the genre of the film. The surrounding cast members become important catalysts in this change, without being over dramatic. James Le Gros and Ben Kingsley create relatable adult figures that become sources of inspiration for the younger characters as they mature with the film. The cinematography is also kept simple with a well balanced musical score. This film is not meant to blow one away. Instead, it presents a feel-good experience, showing how the emotions of some evolve with the hobbies to which they devote most of their time. Simply replace bird watching with any hobby you enjoy, and you have a film that you can relate to. Meyer has created a film that will surely spark the sense of adventure in youthful minds, encouraging one not necessarily to embark on a physical journey, but to simply find ones path to growing up.

Review rating: 7 / 10

Screening Time: Sunday, February 16th at 4:15pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox