Being a film fan is an interesting hobby, because you sometimes need to go through some really dreadful stuff before finding something amazing, and sometimes what surprises you the most is a film that comes out of absolutely nowhere. For me, getting pleasant little surprises like this is what motivates me to keep on doing what I love. One of said surprises is A Birder’s Guide to Everything, an unassuming, sweet little indie that was way better than I expect even the filmmakers anticipated.
The film tackles an incredibly niche topic – birdwatching. I know that doesn’t appeal to everyone (especially not to me) but although the film is centered around the search for a likely-extinct duck, the central story is that of friendship and perseverance. It tells the story of David (Kodi Smit-McPhee) a young, awkward teenage boy (a character all high school-themed films love to concentrate on), who spots a duck he thinks to be the rare extinct Labrador Duck. Gathering his fellow birders and a new friend and potential love interest, David and the gang travel miles to try and find this bird to prove its existence. It may not sound like the most rivetting material, but again I echo the fact that the film is not merely about David searching for a duck – he is searching for a reason to why his life is the way it is – his mother recently did, and his father was quick to start a relationship with her nurse. David finds it very hard to fit into this world, so he tries to escape it by concentrating on his hobby, which incidentally leads to the events of the film.
The best part of small, independent films (and I am sure I’ve expressed this sentiment many times before) is that it shines light on new talents. Kodi Smit-McPhee may have been acting for a few years now, but this was truly a star-making turn for him. The film may not have been widely seen, but Smit-McPhee truly gives the role his all. He isn’t as socially awkward and detached as other fictional nerdy characters, and has a rare charm about him that shows that he isn’t someone who wants to fit in, or feels the need to try – he just wants to do what he loves, and he doesn’t care what others think. The pain of loss and grieving is evident in the way Smit-McPhee expresses the character, and his wise, but uncertain, look at life is one that is very touching.
Appearing alongside Smit-McPhee are a trio of also very talented young actors – Alex Wolff as Timmy, his raucous and foul-minded best friend, Michael Chen as the robotic and calculative milquetoast of the group Peter and Katie Chang as Ellen, the rookie birder and potential love interest. The best part of the film comes in Ben Kingsley, however. I am starting to think Sir Ben can’t turn a movie down, and while that sometimes is bothersome, here his performance is more than just a performance – not only is he very good as the devious birding expert, he does something very noble – he lends his name and reputation to this tiny little film, thus giving it a lot more credibility. Kingsley doesn’t add too much to the experience of the film – he is good, but not as good as the young cast, but having him in the film gives it that extra boost of gravitas and hopefully will draw more people into seeing it.
A Birder’s Guide to Everything was something I was not expecting. It is highly flawed, and can be cliched at times – but it is so much better than I thought it would be. I was expecting a forgettable little film that will not add anything to an already rapidly growing canon of teen films. I was wrong – it was incredibly cute, hilariously quirky and something with so much heart put into it. It may not be as exciting as a lot of other films you could watch, but it truly has so much soul and passion put into it. I implore anyone to seek out this film, both because it is an incredibly adorable, touching story, but also because films like this need to be made, and we should continue to support the independent film industry, because like many indie films, A Birder’s Guide to Everything is something truly, truly special.