I’ve been seeing a strange trend in films lately: the dysfunctional family. While Arrested Development made the concept flat out hilarious (watch it!), other films have taking a decidedly more gloomy approach, which is where Birds of America falls. Akin to a film like Smart People or a more robust The Savages, Birds of America likes to pretend it’s a quirky little indie film but instead ends up feeling like it doesn’t belong in such category. Not because it isn’t good enough, however, but simply because the actors inside this one just don’t really fit.
Morrie (Matthew Perry) is the keeper of all things family related, including his siblings. In this comedy foray into sibling relationships, Morrie’s little brother Jay (Ben Foster) is beyond peculiar, homeless and humorously, but clinically, depressed. His beautiful sister Ida (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a promiscuous insomnia and sometime photographer that is starved for attention. Morrie’s wife Betty (Lauren Graham) has waited patiently for seven years for their hard work to pay off so they can start a family. As Morrie’s life begins to unravel, he comes to realize that his family will stand by his side no matter what.
I didn’t write the above description, but rather I simply copied down what First Look Studios has plastered on the back of the box. While writing it down I noticed a few inconsistencies, but rather than “fix” them I felt I should just make a note about them before I proceed further. What is presented in the above description portrays the film in a slightly different light than it actually is. Jay is not really depressed and Morrie’s life, while unraveling, is only a small part of what the film is actually about. The film instead is more of a family effort and just like the family portrayed in the film, it’s a tad bit off-kilter. But that’s just part of what’s enjoyable about it.
I’ve reviewed quite a few of First Look Studio’s films and I’ve rarely found them all that worthwhile to watch. Recently, however, their releases have been quite impressive, with the incredibly strange War, Inc. turning out to be incredibly entertaining and this film, Birds of America, being quite a delight to watch. I’m not sure why First Look Studio tends to put out films that people have never heard of, but I’m glad they are since we occasionally get nice ones like Birds of America here. Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t perfect, but it would have been a shame if this one was damned to the depths of Sundance and never seen again.
As much trumpeting as I’ve done already, I’ve barely talked about the film itself. As I said in my opening paragraph, the film is about a dysfunctional family and as tiring as a concept as that is, does create for interesting characters. Perry’s character is eternally stressed and can’t have a bowel movement, Foster is a tad bit strange and Goodwin cannot sleep due to leaving her boyfriend years ago and regretting it ever since. As entertaining as all these characters are, it’s really their interactions with one another that sell the film. When they’re working in perfect unison, especially during the latter half of the film where they start to gel a bit more and aren’t quite so estranged from one another, there’s nothing quite so entertaining. But before they’re able to get to that point, i.e. the first half of the film, things are just incredibly strange and confusing. Thankfully there is no insufferable jerk among the group, so there’s no one to grate on your nerves, but each one of the characters has their own little quirks. The only one in the film you could truly hate is the neighbors which…deserve to be hated.
There are a few genuinely entertaining moments in the film, but the whole affair, even with some rather high-profile stars, is really just laid back to a surprising degree. To see these people triumph over what ails them each is fantastic and puts a smile on your face, even if a few of their dilemmas remain a bit confusing. I get Goodwin and Graham’s hindrances, but I’m still a bit sketchy on what was holding back Foster and Perry. Once Perry chased after the girl on rollerblades he was apparently hallucinating about for a reason I’m not entirely clear on, he was magically able to have a bowel movement…which is…well, I told you the film was strange, so I’ll just leave it there.
Although the film attempts to be like the other dysfunctional family dramas, none of it hit the poignant mark of The Savages or the pomposity of Smart People (although that film was a bit too egotistical in the way it was presented), but Birds of America still managed to be entertaining and moving. It didn’t quite hit all the marks it could have and the plot was a bit fuzzier than it should have been, but with a scant run time of eighty-five minutes, it didn’t exactly have much time to breathe and it kept a brisk pace the entire way.
Overall Birds of America comes Recommended. It certainly isn’t a film that will have you jumping up and down with its ingenuity or surprised by its writing or characters, but it is still moderately entertaining for what it is. Recommended.
Surprise, surprise…there isn’t much here! First Look Studios once again releases a DVD scant on content, with only a handful of trailers to play before the movie before arriving at the films non-imposing main menu where you can choose to watch the film, select chapters, set up and watch the previews again if you so desire. Video for the film is once again an interlaced transfer (c’mon First Look, can’t you at least make these things progressive? You produce Blu-ray releases for some of your titles; surely know how to author films in 480p!), but it isn’t too bad. Colors are clean and there isn’t much compression that pops up to hinder your enjoyment of the film. The 5.1 mix may as well be stereo for as little as it uses the surrounds, but with a film of this nature I don’t think we really need to hear people rollerblading around the room, so it’s adequate for this type of film.
And…that’s it. Nothing else here. Some English SDH and Spanish subtitles wrap up the extras and you’ll be on your way after that. It’s an entertaining film but I feel it could have been a bit more of a filled release. Granted, the fact First Look Studios is even putting out these rather obscure films is good enough for most, but I still would like a bit more care taken in the video quality department. Give this one a Rental.
Birds of America arrives on DVD on October 21st.