Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets is a bit of a mouthful of a title but hopefully just from the title alone, the whimsical and quirky nature of the film is already expressed. There aren’t many films out there about a teenager who talks to an imaginary talking pigeon therapist, but the film nonetheless is engaging and funny with its own unique visual style.
Lucas Jade Zumann plays 16-year-old James Whitman, whose sister Jorie disappeared with no explanation a month ago. James is struggling with his own anxiety and depression, as well as dealing with his dysfunctional parents (played by Jason Isaacs and Lisa Edelstein) who can’t afford a real psychiatrist so in his times of need, James turns to Dr. Bird, an imaginary talking pigeon voiced by Tom Wilkinson, for advice.
What plays out across the film is a mission for James to find his sister. He’s joined along the way by Sophie (Taylor Russell) a girl at his school that he likes and what follows is a very interesting and almost dream-like at times but Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets is a really good film that engages with the difficult topic of mental health that many films avoid..
Almost immediately, the film establishes the quirky and peculiar visual style and comedic style that will carry on for the rest of the film and it creates a really dry, but very funny atmosphere right from the get-go. James and Sophie have some very peculiar and interesting exchanges and interactions with various different extravagant characters. They have a very funny and memorable interaction with a strange cult leader named Xavier played wonderfully by David Arquette.
But one big issue with Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets that becomes more prominent as the film goes on, is that it’s not entirely clear on what it’s trying to be and what it wants to say. It tries to be a really powerful and meaningful coming of age film, opening up the way for a really important and mature conversation on mental health and anxiety and depression. But all that gets lost along the way as James’ anxiety seems to disappear for the majority of the film’s second act. It’s almost as if the film wants to tackle the issue of mental health but isn’t one hundred percent sure of the best way of tackling such a heavy topic.
That being said, it does still make some strides on the mental health side of things and there are a few lines in the film that really resonate, in particular “don’t let fear dictate what you do in your life”. But the quality of the film does drop as it goes on and as it struggles to decide what it wants to say next and how to achieve that.
To add to the complications of what exactly this film is trying to be, it’s also a real mismatch of genres straddling the lines between mystery, comedy, drama, teen coming of age and it leaves you even more unsure of what exactly the main takeaway of the film should be.
Yaniv Raz’s directorial debut is a good effort and Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets is funny and entertaining, but there’s just a bit too much missed potential and it could have added much more to the conversation on the mental health of teenagers.
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is out now on digital.