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A Bird of the Air

A scene from Margaret Whitton’s A Bird of the Air. [Photo: Paladin]

A Bird of the Air 1.5 out of 4

star1-5

A Bird of the Air traffics in a sort of vague, half-defined spiritual questing. It also deals in an opposites-attract romantic plotline between a pair of chemistry-less leads. Needless to say, the two strands are related, but Margaret Whitton's film shifts willy-nilly between the two so that the result is a dreary stop-start movie, in which the endless will-they-or-won't-they-hook-up storyline (obviously they will) and the perfunctory stretches of its hero's searching into a parrot's past alternate with little sense of purpose or cohesion. Starring Jackson Hurst as ultra-stoical, ultra-shy highway department worker known only as Lyman, the film concerns our single-named hero's simultaneous discovery of ultra-sprightly, ultra-forthright librarian Fiona (Rachel Nichols), who immediately takes a romantic liking to him and the talkative bird in question who immediately takes a non-romantic liking to him. Encouraged by the probing Fiona, Lyman starts opening up, beginning to tentatively skirt the details of his own long hushed-up past while the bird's various utterances lead the pair—and eventually just Lyman—to seek out his numerous former owners.

Naturally, given the film's somewhat precious air of spiritualism, the parroted phrase that speaks most clearly to Lyman is a quotation from the book of Ecclesiastes that gives the film its title and gives Fiona a chance to offer a blithely optimistic interpretation of that most dour of Biblical books. But Whitton's film is decidedly non-doctrinaire in its religiosity, choosing to inscribe Lyman's search into the bird's past, which is also a search into his own past, with a non-specific brand of spirituality that, while probably preferable to a dogmatic Christianity, is too fuzzy to endow his quest with much in the way of dramatic thrust or meaning. Particularly as it's always being interrupted by the romantic angle which is also marred by a distinct sense of fuzziness, in this case the characterizations that allow for some odd, unproductively puzzling behaviors by the would-be lovers. (Yes, we know Fiona's a dog lover, but her reaction in a late scene involving a mercy killing seems downright bizarre.) Whitton does bring an effective sense of existential hopelessness to the sequences involving Lyman's endless patrolling of the nighttime highways, lighting the dark screen with bursts of burning cars, but she has little idea how to endow Roger Towne's screenplay with enough specificity of character or consistency of vision to overcome the essential vagueness of the source material's conception.

Director(s): Margaret Whitton Screenwriter(s): Roger Towne Cast: Rachel Nichols, Jackson Hurst, Linda Emond, Buck Henry, Judy Ivey, Phyllis Somerville, Erik Jensen, Matte Osian, Rocco Sisto, Louis Zorich Distributor: Paladin Runtime: 98 min Rating: NR Year: 2011

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