Love Birds (Murphy, 2011)

Love Birds is an innocuous romantic comedy from New Zealand featuring a sad mope (Rhys Darby) who adopts and nurses a duck and eventually falls for the woman (Sally Hawkins) to whom he turns for advice.

The most notable aspect of the film is the presence of Sally Hawkins, whom American audiences may recognize from Made in Dagenham, Happy-Go-Lucky, Jane Eyre, Never Let Me Go, and Great Expectations.  Hawkins is one of the great under-appreciated actresses of her day, but she is hampered by a script that gives her nothing much to do except to stand around and wait for Darby’s character to notice her. Darby, in his defense, is distracted by caring for his duck.

Romantic comedies have a formula, and Love Birds follows it fairly carefully. The characters “meet cute” (in this case over the duck), one or more of them is seemingly unavailable (in this case Doug has just been dumped by a long-time girlfriend), they fall in love unawares (Doug helps Holly’s son get over his fears of an asteroid hitting the earth), and one (in this case Doug) falls for someone else at just the wrong moment.  Stir in a liberal number of quirky friends to act as foils or advisers.

The execution is acceptable, Darby and Hawkins are pros and the search for the real emotion buried in the conventional situations. The eleventh hour complication is, perhaps, too predicable, as are the responses of each of the potential lovebirds to it. I did appreciate the film’s understanding that sometimes just saying you are sorry is not enough, but much as with the more well known Forgetting Sarah Marshall, once the film has the aggrieved party reject a simple apology as insufficient, the script doesn’t know how to get them back together again. That’s probably indicative of the fact that this is film that is more about humorous situations than character insight. Beyond the generic emotions of preferring to be loved than alone, it is hard to intuit what the characters are feeling, so the script always feels like it is waiting for the lovers to catch up.

Love Birds is being marketed as part of Spiritual Cinema Circle, a DVD subscription that purports to offers “uplifting” stories that might not have made it to wide release in the United States. It’s unclear, based on the example of this film, whether the focus is more on “feel good” movies, wholesome (PG-13 or below) films, or films that explore spiritual themes. If the latter, Love Birds is a little bit of a stretch. There are, perhaps, intimations of of postmodern existential angst in the son’s fears of a cataclysmic disaster, and the characters’ behaviors and worldview may be more or less informed by moral traditions of Western religion, but had I seen the film in a different context I would be hard pressed to call it “spiritual.”

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