First rule: do NOT call them bird watchers. These are seriously ornithophilic teenagers and the correct term is “birder.”
Maybe one reason they like birds so much is that the three members of the high school birder society — all male — are odd birds themselves. When one of them catches a glimpse of what just might be a duck previously thought to be extinct, that is exactly the adventure they had been hoping for, something big and meaningful and important, something to prove to everyone around them and maybe to themselves, too, that what they care about really matters. And an adventure would also be a good excuse to get away from some uncomfortable situations at home and school and be in a place that feels like a truer home.
David (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is more than uncomfortable. His mother has died. She had been a birder, and being passionate about birds makes him feel close to her. Now his father (James LeGros), who “literally kills birds for a living” (he owns chicken restaurants) is about to marry the nurse who took care of his mother. She is a warm-hearted and sympathetic person, but to David she is an intruder, especially when she accidentally lets her robe slip and he gets a look at her breasts. He is the one who gets a quick, blurry picture of the possibly-rare duck and he takes it to an expert (Ben Kingsley), who confirms that it could be a Labrador duck, and who shares some memories of David’s mother.
If it can be confirmed that the Labrador duck is not extinct, this would be very big news.
The other two members of the Young Birders Society (high-spirited and highly hormonal Alex Wolff and nerdy control freak Michael Chen) “borrow” a relative’s car and go off in search of the possible Labrador duck. They try to “borrow” camera equipment, too, but are discovered by a girl from the photography club, (Katie Chang) who insists on going along so she can be the one to take the pictures.
It’s an often-told coming-of-age journey tale, but nicely understated and there are some unexpected twists and sensitive performances. The people who made this film brought the same loving attention to the characters that the characters do to the small feathered creatures they care for so deeply.
Parents should know that there is some teenage strong and crude language, brief nudity and sexual references.
Family discussion: Why was the duck so important to David? To the others?
If you like this, try: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and watch some birds