Canadian Film Festival: The Birder Review

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The Birder (2013)

Cast: Tom Cavanagh, Mark Rendall, Jamie Spilchuk
Director: Ted Bezaire
Country: Canada
Genre: Comedy
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: The following The Birder review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Canadian Film Festival. For more information visit their official site.

Do birds have teeth? That’s the kind of casual mental wandering provoked by the tedium of The Birder, a movie every bit as mild-mannered as the separated ornithologist whose passing-over for a promotion provides the plot its decidedly immobile momentum. It’s about as captivating a presence too. Ted Bezaire’s sophomore feature is stupendously staid, milquetoast to match its protagonist and almost impossible to entertain in the mind for more than a moment past the closing credits. Indeed it’s a wonder they managed to make it at all; here is a film so resolutely rote in every aspect it’s odd that they didn’t just forget to make it. Birds don’t have teeth, by the way. Nor does this movie.

A barrel, at one point, bears the label “Parks & Rec”, which might remind enough audience members of a recent episode or amusing moment to muster a collective chuckle. Does the NBC show take an ampersand? Trying to call to mind the title card is engaging and even rewarding in a way to put The Birder to shame.

the_birder_2014_3That its most efficient gag is an avian flu pun is pretty telling: The Birder is, if nothing else—big if—about as exciting as ornithology in the field. Maybe that means a small proportion of the population will be enthralled; most, meanwhile, will exit adrift a current of their own contemplation, clutching to any stray thought that might entertain more than the extraordinarily ordinary happenings on-screen. A barrel, at one point, bears the label “Parks & Rec”, which might remind enough audience members of a recent episode or amusing moment to muster a collective chuckle. Does the NBC show take an ampersand? Trying to call to mind the title card is engaging and even rewarding in a way to put The Birder to shame.

But shame, really, isn’t a fair reaction for a film that’s simply so standard as to surprise. Outrage is as unlikely a reaction as enthusiasm; there’s nothing here at all to provoke anything but passivity. If films were furniture from Ikea, we might here have our Klubbo: a nice little nest of tables as unlikely to offend as it is to serve any purpose beyond sitting in a corner beneath something else. With the Klubbo, at least, we can contemplate why it was made: ergonomic is too efficient a word for The Birder, which merely serves no purpose quite pleasantly. Where Bezaire and co-writer Michael Statsko thought they were going is anyone’s guess; how production didn’t prove they weren’t, all the more so.

If films were furniture from Ikea, we might here have our Klubbo: a nice little nest of tables as unlikely to offend as it is to serve any purpose beyond sitting in a corner beneath something else.

the_birder_2014_4Theirs is a terribly structured script, which is not at all the same as it being structured terribly; indeed it’s a perfectly passable job, so well-worked its beats can be seen coming a mile away. Might perhaps the idea of the “lifer”, a rare bird sighting that defines the ornithologist’s career, serve as a neat framing metaphor for the protagonist’s growth? Will the slacker stoner sidekick somehow teach the older man as much as he himself learns? Will everyone end up appreciating some integral aspect of themselves? This is a story that’s done the rounds for decades, each time enmeshed anew in some new niche context, each time achieving less its efforts to mask the meaninglessness of it all.

Like the pathetic protagonist, courtesy of Tom Cavanagh’s effectively exasperated approach to the material, this film is beyond being laughed at because to do so would just be cruel, especially in light of its lame efforts to have us laugh with it. Only the underused Fred Willard can muster as much as a titter, and even then it’s just the joy of spotting him. That he isn’t in it more is a shame; that The Birder is boring enough to facilitate a fantasy remake where he is, at least, is something. Watching the film is a little like waiting for a lifer with an enthusiastic ornithologist. “Any minute now,” he tells you as he stares through his binoculars, “any minute now we’ll see it.” Is it really worth the wait?

[notification type=”star”]45/100 ~ BAD. The Birder is beyond being laughed at because to do so would just be cruel, especially in light of its lame efforts to have us laugh with it.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.