‘Guide’ is fresh air in stale format

Los Angeles TimesApril 4, 2014 

Katie Chang, from left, Alex Wolff, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Chen star in “A Birder’s Guide to Everything.”

COURTESY PHOTO

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’s wedding: 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

H H H 1/2 I

Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex Wolff, Michael Chen, Katie Chang, Ben Kingsley

Director: Rob Meyer

Rated: PG-13; language, sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity.

Running time: 1:26

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