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When Morrie was a teenager, his parents died, leaving him a house, an irritable bowel, and siblings Jay and Ida to raise. Jump ahead 20 years: Jay is homeless, fits poorly into society, and was recently injured; Ida is jobless and sleeps with strangers; Morrie is married to the long-suffering Betty who is waiting for Morrie to get tenure before having children. They constantly have to kiss up to their holier-than-thou neighbors, one of whom is Morrie's department head. Morrie brings Jay home to recover, Ida decides to visit, the siblings make the neighbors ill at ease, a strange woman visits, and the cops want to talk to Jay. What about Morrie's irritated bowels? Written by
BIRDS OF America is not a cinematic version of Lorrie Moore's best selling collection of short stories by the same name. This little tale of a dysfunctional family was written by Elyse Friedman, a Canadian novelist and screenwriter (Then Again, Long Short Story, Waking Beauty) whose works are summed up by the author: "If I had to sum up my characters in one word, I'd say 'outsiders.' There's not one particular source from where I get my inspiration. It comes from different places. I get it from life, and ideas pop into my head. I file them away and sooner or later it's time to deal with them, whether in screenplay, book, or poem or whatever it happens to be." Craig Lucas (Longtime Companion, Prelude to a Kiss, The Dying Gaul) joins Friedman in bringing this strange little story about outsiders and insiders, all living together under one bizarre roof.
Morrie (Matthew Perry) is the older brother who raised his free-spirited siblings Jay (Ben Foster) and Ida (Ginnifer Goodwin) after the death of their parents. Their lives have gone in different directions: Morrie is a professor in line for tenure that happens to be at the mercy of his fellow academician Paul (Gary Wilmes) who lives next door to Morrie and his sturdy but 'it's time to start a family' wife Betty (Lauren Graham). Paul and his obsessive compulsive gardening wife-new-mother Laura (Hilary Swank) do all the right things, a trait Morrie and Betty try to emulate to assure Morrie's getting tenured, a move that will assure Betty that motherhood can be approached.
Into this strained atmosphere drops Jay recovering from an accident (he lay on the freeway and was hit but not killed). Alone (he is married to a young girl Gillian (Zoë Kravitz) but does not share this information at first) Jay moves into Morrie's attic and continues his strange life pattern, imposing his Vegan style on the family and eventually inviting his equally looney sister Ida to move in, too: Ida takes the basement. The two siblings proceed to cause minor crises and dilemmas for Morrie, more or less resulting in Morrie's being alienated from his 'important' neighbors. How Morrie and Betty adjust to their new found way of life and its consequences provides an ending to the story.
The film is slight and begs indulgence in some of the sidebars that are less than contributing to the film as a whole, but the cast is very good: Ben Foster and Ginnifer Goodwin continue to impress as they polish their acting skills. The story is a little on the crazy side, but it does provide another way of viewing a dysfunctional family.
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