“A Birder’s Guide to Everything”: A Summertime DVD

The film is far from a melancholy wallow, but it does examine the ways we cope with loss and the conflicts that result when one person’s healing process is faster or different from another’s. David aspires to be a watcher, a birder who truly communes with nature through the act of seeing. A Birder’s Guide to Everything encourages us to bring the same sense of attunement to each other — to recognize the humanity in everyone we see. Joel Arnold, NPR

According to IMDB, the plot of this year’s A Birder’s Guide to Everything, now on DVD: “David Portnoy, a 15-year-old birding fanatic, thinks that he’s made the discovery of a lifetime. So, on the eve of his father’s remarriage, he escapes on an epic road trip with his best friends to solidify their place in birding history.” David is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Joel Arnold, NPR, elaborates on the simple plot:

David’s possible discovery of a living Labrador duck, a North American species thought to be extinct, sends the guys to Lawrence Konrad (Ben Kingsley), an enigmatic titan of the birding world. Konrad confirms that David’s shaky photo could be a Labrador, but the excitement of that meeting is tempered by the painful reminder that Konrad knew David’s mother, an unsung birding hero who passed away a year-and-a-half before. David is still grieving, a process not helped by the fact that his nonbirding dad (James LeGros) is getting married in just a few days — to his mother’s nurse.

Significantly, David and his dad have never processed the death of his mom.

While amateur ornithology helps David avoid dealing with important emotional issues, the trip helps him with escapism from the wedding—in which he’s supposed to be the best man. Accompanying him are best friends and co-birders Timmy (Alex Wolff) and Peter (Michael Chen), along with a girl new to the bird club, Ellen (Katie Chang).

Stephen Holden, New York Times, regarding the teens’ characterizations in A Birder’s Guide to Everything:

David and his friends are well-drawn portraits of innocents at an excruciatingly awkward age. Timmy, who affects a transparently bogus machismo, is really a scaredy-cat. After the discovery of a bag of what might be crystal meth under a seat of the car, he panics and imagines that they are being followed by a gang of gun-toting drug dealers. These adolescents are still young enough to be afraid of the dark.

How do you survive the humiliation and embarrassment of being 15 and desperate to be a grown-up? Through patience and the instinctive realization that you’ve reached an awkward transition and that the worst will soon be behind you.

And Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “‘A Birder’s Guide to Everything’ doesn’t forget that teenagers are not just obsessed with sex and peer-popularity at school, although those ‘types’ may dominate popular cinema. Nerds and geeks are usually the sidekicks in coming-of-age films, but here they take center stage. They are not handled patronizingly. Nobody is mocked for being smart, for having their nose in a book, for wanting to acquire knowledge.”

In birding terms, David is a “lister” who “strives to be a watcher,” viewers find out. As explained by O’Malley, “Watchers are the ones who actually learn how to see, whose obsession drives them into transcendent layers of sight, where the delineation between the bird and the watcher becomes irrelevant. It is a place of one-ness with your passion, with nature…Watching will include not only the birds through his binoculars, but his father, his lost mother, his new stepmom, his friends, himself.”

You can see the trailer below:

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