After watching Birds of America I made the mistake of reading some comments/review on IMDB. A user with the handle “The_Cylon” nailed the essence of the movie so well, that now I cannot get it out of my head and make up my own. Let me share his/her words before my impressions:
Though the title is derived from Audubon’s priceless book and there are several references within the film corresponding to the title, it also serves as a metaphor. The film centers around a dysfunctional family and each member is like a bird. Morrie is a bird who’s lived in a cage for so long that he’s finding it difficult to break free. His wife Bettie is like a bird who desperately wants to create a nest and nurture children. His brother Jay is a gentle young bird who keeps flying. And, similarly, his sister too keeps flying, only that she’s flying away from having to deal with her problems.
I loved both the script and the actors. If you are still thinking of Matthew Perry as Chandler from friends it’s time to update your mental image of him. The way he pulled of the role of the guy who wants to be normal, who does everything he thinks is right to get a tenure (including some major and humiliating ass-licking of his colleague and neighbor), who accommodates almost every wishes of his wife, who attempts to create a self-image of an average Joe, while he is coming from a severely dysfunctional family was amazing. And he did it with a humor that seemed natural.
But he was not the only I admired in this movie. His sister, played by Ginnifer Goodwin, was a free spirit, who had a little bit too much freedom. She suffered from survival guilt, although her victim didn’t die. His brother Jay, played by Ben Foster, looks crazy, but really he was the victim of a misunderstanding that almost got him killed and certainly ruined his life. Lenny Kravitz’s daughter Zoe played Jay’s wife, which was a minor role, but she was authentic in it too. Finally the neurotic and gray neighbor was portrayed by Hilary Swank as if the flowers separating the two properties were really the largest concern of her life. I just think that everyone in the cast was great.
But they had it easy. The script they had to work with was an excellent combination of the absurd (see Jay’s case), the conventional (simple suburban existence), the humorous (see Perry’s reactions and attitude to life) and the philosophical. (“Sometimes kindness is wiser than truth.”) Like the best movies it worked on the visual level on the story level and on the metaphorical level that I quoted earlier. Go see it and think about it. I did.
IMDB’s summary: A regular guy struggles with a repressive home and professional life, as well as making amends for the trouble his free-spirited brother and sister cause about town.