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 is spent hiding, his home life is full of secrets he doesn’t yet understand, and his personal life is a mix of hormonal desires and faltering confidence. Plus, his older sister has disappeared.
James’ last memory of his sister is a family argument where his dad (Jason Isaacs) slapped her in anger leading James to hold his dad responsible for her disappearance. But, in a family of secrets, his hypothesis is dependent on finding his sister, and so begins a 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).
READ MORE: THE WAY WAY BACK
Based on the book by Evan Roskos, director Yaniv Raz laces fantasy, comedy and drama with broader conversations on adolescent mental health. Stylistically the resulting movie sits 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 we take 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 as we enter the imagination and anxieties of the lead character – 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. Here his view of the world mixes childlike fantasy, movie-inspired drama and poetry. Yaniv Raz perfectly captures the adolescent mind in all its bewildering complexity. Still, it’s Lucas Jade Zumann who brings it to life in glorious technicolour with a humorous yet melancholic performance. Zumann reflects every emotion of adolescence in just 1hr and 45 mins, and when joined by Taylor Russell, Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets finds a unique and compelling voice.
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While it may not always manage to balance the complexity of James’ mental health with the fantasy-inspired quest at its heart Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is both creative, bold and different. Here its stunning cinematography and beautiful performances never shy 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 world of family trauma and connectivity.