Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is available to rent or buy now
For James (Lucas Jade Zumann), teenage life is a mix of anxiety, depression and hero worship of Walt Whitman. His school life spent hiding, his home life full of secrets he doesn’t quite yet understand, and his personal life a mix of hormonal desires and faltering confidence. But, at the top of his troubles, James older sister has disappeared.
James last memory of his sister is a family argument where his dad (Jason Isaacs) slapped her in anger. And therefore, for James, it’s clear that his dad is responsible for her disappearance. But, in a family of secrets, his hypothesis is dependant on finding his sister, and so begins James quest. Meanwhile, James therapist Dr Bird imparts advice on moving on and accepting and loving himself. But, Dr Bird is not your average therapist, and as James begins his search for the truth, first love also comes knocking with Sophie (Taylor Russell). His journey into his sister’s disappearance a trip into his sense of well-being, confidence, and security.
Based on the book by Evan Roskos, director Yaniv Raz laces fantasy, comedy and drama with broader conversations on adolescent mental health. The result, stylistically sitting somewhere between Moonrise Kingdom and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Here, we see the world through James’ inner thoughts, desires and imagination. Each scene treading a fine line between comedy, drama and fantasy. This will undoubtedly divide audiences and critics, as the film takes sharp detours in style, from a western-inspired showdown between boyfriends to a 1920s cocktail party with ragtime inspired teenage dancing. But, for me, this mix of styles is pure genius, the viewers perspective built on the imagination of the lead character, James. A boy who sees poetry in everyday occurrences while longing for popularity in a world that perpetually confuses him.
For the audience, these flights of imagination, creativity and poetic license display James inner turmoil as he straddles the void between childhood and adulthood. His view of the world a mix of childlike fantasy, movie-inspired drama and poetry. Here, Yaniv Raz perfectly captures the adolescent mind in all its bewildering complexity, but it’s Lucas Jade Zumann who brings it to life in glorious technicolour. His performance, delicate yet strong, unwavering yet conflicted and humorous yet melancholic. Here, Zumann reflects every emotion of adolescence in the space of just 1hr and 45 mins. And when joined by the equally endearing and passionate Taylor Russell, the pair elevates Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets above your standard young adult adaptation.
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While not always managing to balance the complexity of James mental health journey with the fantasy-inspired quest at its heart. In turn, rushing to resolve some of its deeper themes of family secrets and unspoken pain. Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is both creative, bold and different. Its stunning cinematography and beautiful performances never shying away from the complexities of teenage anxiety and depression. While at the same time, wrapping these in a narrative that attempts to explore the hidden and often confusing family problems we begin to uncover on the journey from child to adult. And despite a few flaws, one thing is for sure, Yaniv Raz and Lucas Jade Zumann have announced their arrival as two formidable talents.