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Originally published Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 3:06 PM

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‘A Birder’s Guide’: A small movie with wings

A 3.5-star review of “A Birder’s Guide to Everything,” a coming-of-age tale starring Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘A Birder’s Guide to Everything,’ with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex Wolff, Katie Chang, Michael Chen, Daniela Lavender, James Le Gros, Ben Kingsley. Directed by Rob Meyer, from a screenplay by Meyer and Luke Matheny. 88 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language, sex and drug references and brief partial nudity. Sundance Cinemas.

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There really isn’t much to Rob Meyer’s brief, sweet coming-of-age tale “A Birder’s Guide to Everything”: A teenage birding enthusiast named David (Kodi Smit-McPhee), still struggling with the death of his mother a year and a half ago, heads off with his friends in search of a rare Labrador duck, and eventually returns home. But what’s there hits the mark, so much so that I’ll confess this one left me misty-eyed.

Like Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore,” to which this film feels like a less quirky cousin, “Birder’s Guide” is about a very young man busying himself with school (yes, there’s a Latin club here too) and activities in order to avoid dealing with the devastating pain of loss. Memories of David’s laughing, lovely mother keep flickering up, interrupting the narrative just as they interrupt his attempts to carry on. His well-meaning but clueless father (James Le Gros) is remarrying and isn’t much help (“Things happen for a reason,” Dad offers lamely); his stepmother-to-be (Daniela Lavender) tries to connect with him but can’t.

Most of “Birder’s Guide” involves David and his friends (funny, real-seeming kids, played by Alex Wolff, Michael Chen and Katie Chang) on their unauthorized road trip. They ask the kind of questions teens ask — “Do you ever wish the Earth was more like Middle-Earth?” is one — and along the way we learn a bit about birding. But Meyer’s quiet film is about something else; something barely even discussed by the kids: how to find the will, after a tragedy, to move on. In the end, a pale, skinny boy stands at a microphone, and you can almost see his mother with him; he’s grown and changed, in those few days, ready to try to fly again.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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