Review: ‘A Birder’s Guide to Everything’ more swan than ugly duckling

Review: ‘A Birder’s Guide to Everything’ more swan than ugly duckling
Ben Kingsley, left, Alex Wolff, and Kodi Smit-McPhee in a scene from “A Birder’s Guide to Everything.”
(Screen Media Films)

Sensitively observed, the indie drama “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” concerns a gangly 15-year-old birder prodigy named David (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with a timely distraction on the eve of his widower father (James Le Gros) marrying his girlfriend: the sighting of a supposedly extinct duck unseen since the 19th century.

Spurred by a local ornithology legend (a sublimely eccentric Ben Kingsley) to find it before it migrates, David, his Young Birders Society chums (Alex Wolff, Michael Chen) and a camera-sporting female schoolmate (Katie Chang) head to the woods. Along the way, they tangle with a gang of competitive birders and hash out some unsettled feelings about nerdiness, the opposite sex and, in David’s case, grief over his mother and prickly emotions toward his dad.


Director and co-writer Rob Meyer’s debut feature isn’t the most thought-provoking or original coming-of-age tale in a marketplace full of them, but Meyer’s assured handling of his appealing young performers stands out. The brusque teen humor, underpinning turmoil and sentiment all seem to be pulled and massaged from the same organic whole, and that’s refreshing in a genre so often built on gimmicks and stereotypes.

Though it’s hardly an odd duck, “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” has its own sweet call.



“A Birder’s Guide to Everything”

MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity.

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.


Playing: At Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood; and AMC Burbank 16.


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