Overview: A morose businessman (Josh Charles) makes a life-changing decision and a quiet hotel maid (Anaïs Demoustier) goes through a bizarre experience. Diaphana Distribution; 2014; Unrated; 128 Minutes
Criss-Cross: I’m a sucker for so-called “hyperlink cinema”: films where multiple story lines that appear to be unrelated end up crossing over and affecting each other in meaningful ways. I adore Cloud Atlas and the Three Colours trilogy, and I’ll even go to bat for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s oft-maligned Amores Perros and Babel. Bird People is not, strictly speaking, a hyperlink film; it just barely qualifies due to its two overlapping and intersecting storylines. The fact that there are only two is a major issue. In a film like Cloud Atlas, each storyline gets about twenty-five total dedicated minutes, so if you really dislike one you can still enjoy the majority of the film. Bird People’s first half is dedicated to the story of Gary Newman (Josh Charles), a restless businessman who decides to quit his job, leave his wife, and generally abandon his life. There are multiple lengthy scenes of Gary talking to his boss, talking to his wife, talking to his secretary, talking to his boss again, and every conversation goes in circles. The film seems to be aware of its own monotony, as his talk with his wife seems to last for an entire night. It’s nice that the film knows what it’s doing (and it’s doing it really effectively). but that doesn’t make it any more painful to sit through.
Lift Off: The second half of Bird People, focusing on hotel maid Audrey Camuzet (Anaïs Demoustier), is a complete turn-around. The film takes an unexpected dive into magical realism, giving it a much-appreciated jolt of energy. Even more surprising than the turn itself is how well it’s handled. Director Pascale Ferran gives us imagery — and it’s hard to discuss that imagery without giving things away — in Audrey’s segment that one would never imagine could come from the director of Gary’s segment. It doesn’t hurt that Demoustier has far more screen presence than Charles, although the latter is given such bland material that it’s not completely his fault.
Uneven Scales: Audrey’s half of the film functions perfectly without Gary’s, so why include his at all? The film doesn’t need the thematic parallels it sets up, and it certainly doesn’t need to spend nearly an hour setting them up. Bird People is unwatchable for a very long time, and then it’s entrancing for the same amount of time. Audrey’s story is worthy of a full film, and it’s powerful enough that it just barely drags the film out of the gutter Gary leaves it in. I’m not mad at Bird People, but I am incredibly disappointed.
Wrap-Up: Bird People’s bifurcated structure is a major miscalculation. The second half is as charming and inventive as the first half is monotonous and repetitive.