As human beings, we are in a constant state of growth and maturity…until we aren’t. Ideally, we should always be maturing, but life (aka our parents) gets in the way. As I was watching Wendy McColm’s Birds Without Feathers, I couldn’t help but be thrown back to my child development classes in college. But that’s beside the point.
McColm tells the story of six emotionally-damaged individuals. Neil/Janet (Wendy McColm) is a hopeful Instagram celebrity who seeks attention by having her picture taken by others. Jo (Lenae Day) is an identity thief, who finds value in the personas she takes on. Daniel (Cooper Oznowicz) is a depressed motivational speaker—good at dispensing advice over following them. Tom (Alexander Stasko) is a Russian, working tirelessly to look and act like an American. Sam (William Gabriel Grier) is an aspiring stand-up, who just needs to get on stage one day. And Marty (Sara Estefanos) works at a senior home, who tells it like it is with brutal honesty and can’t understand why no one likes her.
“…their individual exploration of self-worth, and each character starts from the level of zero.”
The best way to describe Birds Without Feathers is it’s a depressed comedy. There are not a lot of laughs, but it’s quirky and odd…but not in a funny way. While this may sound negative, this dark story has a lot to offer in its final presentation.
What the characters have in common is their individual exploration of self-worth, and each character starts from the level of zero. For Sam, his sense of value comes in performing comedy, but the fear of actually doing it becomes debilitating. Neil/Janet’s value comes in letting others think she’s the person they want her to be. As a motivational speaker, Daniel craves the praise associated with helping others.
Again, I feel like I’m back in my college psych courses. Each time a character ventures out into the real world to find validation and conquer their fears, they are quickly knocked back into their shells, and their own defense mechanisms take over. The result of failure is sitting alone in their car or apartment and repeating their frustrated mantras of worthlessness.
“In the end, she finds more depth in her film by not being funny.”
In the second act, the characters begin interacting and unknowingly help and hinder one another. It’s fascinating and frankly depressing to watch. If this were a pure comedy, McColm would have looked to create humorous situations to find a laugh. Instead, she takes the insightful approach and sets her characters in motion to see how they butt up against each other. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like this film. In the end, she finds more depth in her film by not being funny.
I also appreciated the fact the cast understood their characters and how to portray them. No stilted acting or winks at the camera. They just went all-in and became these wounded people, and it pays off.
The final verdict is Birds Without Feathers is not for everyone. It’s slow pace and odd characters may put off those looking to a more big-studio, commercial film for fun. I found McColm’s film intriguing to watch and fascinated by her satirical take on her subject. If you open yourself to the movie just a little, you’ll find yourself identifying with them in times of great personal and emotional failure.