Cinema reflects an idealized world. Films tend to project an ease of existence that ignores the awkward parts of life: the pauses, the tangents, the missed cues and forced repetitions. Cool characters don’t stumble. Even “awkward” characters never mumble unless they’re supposed to. Characters are perfectly crafted to travel from the beginning of the story to the end.
Birds Without Feathers, the directorial debut of actress Wendy McColm, chooses instead to look those awkward moments in the face. In this black comedy, characters wrestle with stilted attempts at conversation to agonizing moments of aborted self-reflection. The realism with which McColm and co-writer Lenae Day pull this off is uncanny, and makes for some good laughs.
The film centers around the mostly-disconnected stories of six isolated individuals searching for meaning. There is Sam (William Gabriel Grier), a wanna-be comedian with stage fright. He briefly dates Janet AKA Neil (Wendy McColm), who dreams of Instagram stardom. Neil meets and befriends Jo (Lenae Day), a desert-dwelling identity thief with more wigs than cigarettes, whose ex, Daniel, (Cooper Oznowicz) is a self-help motivational speaker with no social or communication skills. She also meets Tom (Alexander Stasko), a Russian man trying to become an American cowboy and meet his idol Jeff Goldblum. Sam, on the other hand, runs into Marty (Sara Estefanos) a self-victimizing nurse at a home for the elderly.
If that sounds confusing, it can be. Feathers wanders between these stories, with the “friendship” between Neil and Jo being the most significant crossover. When they do cross over, they rarely share the space. Instead, the story leans into one perspective or the other. There is one scene, between Neil and Tom, which does feel shared, but it is perhaps the strangest in the film. I won’t say which it is, but I think you’ll know it when you see it.
Birds Without Feathers is, for the most part, a fascinating exploration of the awkwardness of searching for identity in isolation. The sometimes-absurd and very personal stories give us the opportunity to laugh at our own most awkward moments and insecurities–if we’re brave enough–without falling into the tired trope of “Black Mirror” social media critique. The meandering plotlines occasionally leave you feeling lost but, for the most part, hold together Feathers’ bizarre yet fun plot. I will be interested to see where McColm goes next.
Birds Without Feathers will be playing at the Roxy Theater for the next week. Get tickets here.