Freestyle Home Entertainment // 2011 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // July 14th, 2012
"I thought you were decent. You're just some bloke who's too scared to fly with a duck that can't!" -- Holly
Love Birds literally begins with broken wings, and despite valiant efforts to sail off into a picture perfect Auckland sunset, this New Zealand romcom nosedives in the final act, unable to withstand the constant barrage of "chick flick" bullet points.
Curtain rises on Doug (Rhys Darby, Flight Of The Conchords), lovingly listening to and caring for his prize collection of vintage Queen records, when Susan (Faye Smythe, Legend Of The Seeker) -- his live-in girlfriend of two years -- interrupts to announce her immediate and permanent departure. Immediately after delivering a quick set of parting shots to destroy his ego as well as his heart, that is.
Following a prescribed period of drinking and moping, Doug stumbles outside only to find that a wounded bird has landed upon his roof, unable to fly off on its own power. He's never cared for one before, but there's something about this lame duck (Paradise Shelduck, actually -- endemic to NZ) that keeps him hanging on.
Looking for helpful advice, Doug shambles upon cute zookeeper and single mother Holly (Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky), who quickly fobs him off onto a veterinarian and dismisses him altogether. Darn the luck, but circumstances contrive to reunite the pair, and soon (very chaste) sparks are flying where lame Paradise Shelducks cannot.
To borrow a phrase from former Presidential candidate Herman Cain, I don't have facts to back this up, but I believe the term "romcom" came into existence to categorize what would otherwise be called "chick flicks," but feature male characters taking or at least sharing the lead. While Love Birds may not contain every cliche in the book, it does feature enough defining elements to be classified as an instructional film on the genre. To wit:
1. The lead romantic couple must be somewhat quirky or homely, at least by Hollywood standards. We're not talking about trolls here; think Janeane Garofolo in The Truth About Cats And Dogs, Uma Thurman in Motherhood, or the lead male character in just about any American film starring Hugh Grant.
2. The villains must be drop dead gorgeous and must get their humiliating comeuppance in front of an audience.
3. Whether dramatic, comedic, or romantic, key moments must involve the leads being rain-soaked.
4. There must be a musical montage to substitute for character development and realistic depictions of heartbreak or jubilation. The musical accompaniment, while not necessarily limited to well-known pop records, must "underscore" what's happening on-screen. There is no room for irony or dichotomy.
5. The (female) lead must get over her insecurities and realize her true beauty before being able to accept her mate and live happily ever after. The (male) lead must get over his immaturity and realize the (female) lead's true beauty in order to achieve the same goal.
6. There must be at least one best friend (for each lead) who seems to exist solely for the purpose of consuming beverages and discussing the lead's love life.
7. Once the lead couple have met cute, fallen in love, and broken up due to some seemingly irreversible damage, they can only come back together for good in front of a crowd that will inevitably break into applause when the pair begins to kiss.
There are additional, auxiliary plot devices, including mad scrambles on bicycles, hot air balloon rides, and at least one leading character dressing up in costume to fulfill the fantasy of another, in a last ditch attempt to prove life-long fidelity. Love Birds covers all these bases as well.
Before you accuse me of spoiling, bear in mind that everything I've mentioned can be found in the film's trailer. If you doubt me, you can find said trailer in this set's bonus section, along with a brief featurette on the birds used in the film, and promotional interviews with Darby, Hawkins, and director Paul Murphy (Second Hand Wedding).
Technically, there are no complaints. Freestyle Digital Media's standard definition 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer wonderfully exploits the beauty of the film's North Island locations, and the Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix does the Queen songs proud. There are no subtitles provided, however, and this caused real problems for my American ears. Though Kiwis speak English, theirs is an extremely heavy accent, akin to Australian on steroids. Love Birds relies heavily on dialogue, and I found myself backing up quite often to decipher what was being said, which made the normally light 98 minute running time seem interminable by its end.
On the other hand, you might want to try this one with the volume off, playing "Queen's Greatest Hits" on CD instead. I guarantee you'll lose nothing in the translation!
Though I came near to hating this film before its final fade, I'd be dishonest not to admit that part of my frustration was watching a wealth of talent mired in such treacly, by-the-numbers muck. Darby and Hawkins have more than proven their ability to capture and hold audience attention, and their supporting cast hasn't a weak link. Smythe, in particular, manages to bring depth and complexity to her cardboard villainess role; a nearly impossible feat, given what she has to work with. Cinematographer Alun Bollinger (Heavenly Creatures) is the one participant who emerges from this wreck unscathed. His loving eye makes this film as wonderful to look at as its plot mechanics make it impossible to care for. Such talented folk deserve better, and so do you.
Nobody can convince me that Love Birds was a film made for anything other than financial reasons. Obviously, somebody in the bean-counting department figured a generic, standard issue romcom with an appealing cast and a time-tested musical soundtrack was a shortcut to breaking New Zealand films into the big time. No matter their address, Bean-counters responsible for green-lighting film projects are a leading cause of audience misery.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Freestyle Home Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13