Sundance Film Review / Birds of America

Director: Craig Lucas’s long history with the Sundance Film Festival includes The Dying Gaul (2005), which he wrote and directed, and screenwriting The Secret Lives of Dentists (2003) and Longtime Companion (1990), which won the dramatic Audience Award. His other screenplays include Prelude to a Kiss, which he adapted from his play. More recently, he wrote the book for The Light in the Piazza, winner of six 2005 Tony Awards. He is currently adapting Brecht's Galileo for director Daniel Sullivan and hoping to direct his screenplay "Small Tragedy" in the near future.

Screenwriter: Elyse Friedman was born in Toronto, and raised in North York. Suburbia. Steelesview Public School. Zion Heights Junior High. The Alternative Independent Study Program (AISP). When she was 18 she moved downtown to the Annex, and attended film school at Sheridan College in Oakville. This made no sense geographically. Many hours were spent on GO Trains, buses and subways. After Sheridan, Elyse stumbled into the world of corporate communications. For a dark decade she worked variously as a slide rat, assistant producer, producer, and writer. Elyse then went to work at YTV, penning and field-producing a no-budget kids' show called Rec Room. Soon after, she became the first individual to enthusiastically move from Toronto to Winnipeg where she wrote and produced comedy segments for CBC Radio shows Brand X and Definitely Not the Opera. The novel was next. Then Again. Short-listed for the 2000 Trillium Book Award. Elyse returned to Toronto to study screenwriting at the Canadian Film Centre. Since then she has penned several feature-length scripts. Elyse wrote her second novel, Waking Beauty, and her first book of poems, Know Your Monkey, in tandem. She has recently completed a book of short stories, Long Story Short, which will be published by Anansi this fall. One of these tales, "The Soother," won the Gold National Magazine Award for fiction. Another, "Truth," originally published in The Malahat Review, was selected for the Journey Prize Anthology, and also appeared in Best Canadian Stories. Elyse has contributed poems and short fiction to literary journals and anthologies across Canada and in the US.

Birds of America: In “normal” middle-class suburban families, kids grow up, move out, and visit only on special occasions. But Morrie Tanager never got to leave. His parents died and left him, and he became the parent, raising two siblings, Ida and Jay, in the home he now shares with his wife, Betty. So it’s not surprising this family is a bit askew. Ida is a promiscuous, broke, itinerant artist; Jay, an odd duck prone to antisocial experiments; and Morrie, a chronically constipated pleaser, who hasn’t had a bowel movement in ages. When Jay goes completely off the deep end and Ida drops in unannounced, the motley clan is thrust under one roof, and childhood dynamics reemerge.

The big problem is that Ida and Jay’s recklessness could upend a delicate social ritual Morrie and Betty are masterminding to secure his tenure. Birds of America is about socialization and growing up when there are no grown-ups. For Jay it means living within social boundaries and telling an occasional lie; for Ida it’s accountability for her actions, whereas Morrie must learn to loosen codes, assert the naked truth, and release responsibility to others. What’s so satisfying and moving in Craig Lucas's eccentric, yet lyrical, comedy—besides the stellar cast— is the way the siblings’ transformations adjust the geometry of interdependence, and that genuine tenderness is the familial glue that ultimately bolsters each family member in the world.

Despite the slow beginning the movie was entertaining. With Mathew Perry as Morrie and Hilary Swank as the uptight neighbor of this eccentric family it had to get moving, and it did. There were sad moments and laugh out loud moments. Although this wasn't the best movie I've every seen, it was worth seeing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I give it a 3


Molly Daniels said…
I saw this movie listed in next week's issue of TV Guide. I love both Matthew Perry and Lauren Graham. Glad you liked it! I'll look for it when it hits theaters!

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