Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets: Review

Dr. Bird's Advice For Sad Poets: Review. By Alex Crisp.

Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets: Review. By Alex Crisp.

James Whitman is a tremulous teen with a difficult home-life, a crush on the cutest girl in school, and a mysteriously vanished sister. He talks to an imaginary psychiatrist because his father doesn’t believe he’s mentally ill, therefore refusing to pay for him to see an actual one. All of these threads inform a manic, overstuffed comedy-drama that’s never sure what it wants to be.                 

Performance-wise, most commendable is Tom Wilkinson, whose avuncular warmth makes Dr. Bird—the imaginary psychiatrist who also happens to be a pigeon—the most real character in the film. Jason Isaacs showcases his talent for accents as Whitman’s father, and Lucas Jade Zumann, playing the teenaged James Whitman, does what I’d describe as a pretty good Woody Allen impression during the first act. Allen’s directorial mien is also the touchstone for director Yaniv Raz’s approach here, but unlike Allen, Raz displays a complete lack of discipline and self-control—someone has let him play in the Microsoft video-editor sandbox without supervision. The rapidity of kooky cuts, visual tricks and editing folderol turns the viewing experience into a ride on a demented merry-go-round, and not in a good way.

So the direction lets the comedy down, and the screenplay lets the drama down too. The final act leaves the fun-park behind, delving deeper into the mystery of Whitman’s missing sister. That mystery has a prosaic resolution, but the simplicity isn’t reflected in the writing. Dialogue can only handle so much plot before the plot starts to drown the words, and that’s what happens in Whitman’s closing exchanges with his family.

It’s in these exchanges that Dr Bird’s essential theme is rammed home. The troubled teenager realises he has to change his equally troubled family’s outdated attitudes towards mental illness. The teen’s father suffers from the same panic-problems that he does, but is misunderstood because of his anger. There’s nothing wrong with those ideas, they just fall flat for lack of craft. Such misgivings might be redundant though. Yaniv Raz’s gimmickry is so distracting that it would’ve be impossible to ignore however good the screenplay was. The serendipitous outcome is that Raz didn’t spoil a better one than this.

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