I’m not going to lie to you. I have owned an African parrot. I once rescued a baby starling from a San Francisco sidewalk and kept it in a shoebox. (I named it Gus, and my boyfriend at the time used to sit with it perched on his finger and they’d watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer together.) I have driven across four counties to purchase an heirloom chicken. I am not exactly baffled by people who are into birds.
But I do concede, we are a bit weird.
Bird people exist, among other reasons, to save, steward and nurture birds and also to make cat ladies look reasonable by contrast. At the beginning of For the Birds, a cluttered kitchen is shown. There are hens and roosters on seemingly every surface. As someone who loves eggs and keeps a backyard flock of my own, I just couldn’t get past the, “wow, that kitchen must reek” part of the thing, which is how you know I am a bush league bird lady. Once you have those feathery little shit factories fertilizing your linoleum and you’re not grossed out by it, you have in fact leveled up.
Kathy Murphy understands she is … unconventional. She doesn’t care. And she doesn’t care that her husband kind of does care and would prefer not to share the kitchen with a large flock of ducks. And there’s an issue with overcrowding. The county has been alerted to the fact that the Murphys have something uncomfortably close to 200 farm birds on their residential property. They seem less clear that the crowded conditions are causing the birds to be mangy and riddled with infections and parasites. There’s a showdown with the SPCA. There is a showdown with the fed up husband. There is a “battle royale” in a county court to get the birds back after the SPCA removes them. Kathy’s lawyer is almost as much of a piece of work as Kathy is. They met when he bought a couple of her ducks one time. For reasons that are lost on me, he thinks it’s a good idea to let the situation go to trial. With a jury.
Artistically, For the Birds is admittedly not groundbreaking. It’s rustic and basic and in some instances a bit muddled. At times it lacks a cogent forward thrust. But it illuminates something we might not think about very much, which is what is actually going on in the mind of a hoarder, and how the pathology of such a person ramifies on other people (and animals). Kathy Murphy is a mess. Her husband, Gary, is a mess. She’s estranged from her daughter and grandchildren, the pipes break and so she simply has no running water for several months. The birds destroy her marriage. She lives in disarray at best (“filth” sounds judgmental but that’s what it is), and absolutely everything is someone else’s fault. Eventually she decides to clean up a bit, but it takes a conviction for animal cruelty, a divorce and the subsequent death of her husband, and essentially having no other choice—and even then, she makes the situation pretty crazy for the well-meaning friends who are trying to help her. In the end, this is not a film about birds as much as it is about mental illness and the shadow it casts. Though, yeah, there are plenty of birds.
Director: Richard Miron
Release Date: May 31 (NY), June 14, 2019 (LA)
Amy Glynn scratches out a living