Ben Donovan (Matthew Perry) manages The Sunshine Centre, a seconde rate sports/events arena in San Diego. A short lived quirky comedy that chronicles the daily goings-on of misfit folks ... See full summary »
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
The One About The Dysfunctional Family With A Shaky Storyline
"Birds of America" is a quiet independent film that managed to get big names to star in it. I'm not sure what drew Matthew Perry, Lauren Graham, Ginnifer Goodwin, and (last but definitely not least) two-time Academy Award Winner Hillary Swank to star in this film, because the story went from taking plots and characters similar to movies I've seen before, to going in weird and confusing directions that make you go "huh?". Such directions are aided by random subplots.
Matthew Perry plays Morrie, a college professor who had inherited his parents' house after his father fell out a window and his mother died from cancer. The problem was, he was just completing high school when it happened, and he still had two younger siblings to take care of. Those siblings grow up to be Jay (Ben Foster) a borderline psychotic who likes laying his head on concrete waiting for cars to come by, and Ida (Ginnifer Goodwin), a promiscuous party girl who is a little less crazy than her brother, but still hard to handle.
The movie doesn't bother to even begin to explain how they got this way. All we know is that Morrie is still living in that house, is married to Betty (Lauren Graham, playing yet another distraught housewife), and (random subplot alert) has not had a bowel movement in a few months. When this point is revealed, the next scene you see is Perry sitting on a toilet seat with a Microsoft laptop in front of him and a MacBook on his left side. When seeing this scene, I thought to myself, "Why, movie, why?". It's a good thing Morrie isn't a germaphobe.
Things get messy when Jay and Ida have nowhere to go, move into the old house, and continue to test both Morrie and Betty's patience. Morrie can't just dump them on the street because, I guess, they're family. However, the character of Jay, to me, seemed to be better off in a mental institution given his suicidal tendencies. Why that option never occurred to Matthew Perry's character at any point in this film is beyond me. Goodwin was good in her role as a misfit, and the film could have easily just kept her. It's not that Ben Foster didn't do a good job in his role. He did. Jay just seemed too heavy a character for this movie to handle, and could have been utilized better in another movie.
It also surprises me that Hillary Swank took on such a thankless role as the suburban débutante next door to Morrie and Betty who happens to be married to Morrie's boss, Paul (Gary Wilmes). Swank turns in a one-dimensional performance here that could really have been played by anyone. In fact, for some reason, her character reminded me of a less over- the-top Babs ("That boy is a P-I-G Pig!") from "Animal House" (1978). Since she's not only a two-time Oscar winner, but an A-lister at that, it surprises me that she played a role this small. They could have gotten a no-name actress, and it would have cost a lot less.
This movie suffers greatest from being a hodgepodge of subplots, all of which don't tie together well or resolve originally. In fact, the title of the movie, "Birds of America", comes from a first edition book Morrie also inherited from his father. In the beginning of the film, it's revealed that Jay ripped it to shreds for reasons the movie never explains. Is the book referred to again? Not until the closing credits, where you see L.L. Bean-esque pictures of birds from this aforementioned book. These credits only remind you that the movie could have made a metaphor that made sense using this book, but didn't even try to do so.
And speaking of useless subplots with shifty solutions, remember the bowel trouble Morrie has? If you've seen "Me, Myself, and Irene" (2000), you can probably guess how it's going to resolve itself. This movie tried, but the plot felt messy, unrealistic, and forgettable at the same time. I can't give it a stronger recommendation.
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