Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets Movie Poster Image
YA dramedy about anxiety has language, innuendo, drinking.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 109 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie focuses on perseverance and working through the difficulties that mental illness can pose to someone coming of age. It encourages honesty and communication in friendships and families and makes it clear that those who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts need professional help.

Positive Role Models

The movie shows how devoted and loving James is to his sister, Jorie, and how much he cares for Sophie. The cast includes two Black characters, but the movie doesn't really deal with diversity. It does, however, highlight adolescent mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. Teens make iffy decisions, but the consequences of those choices are illustrated.

Violence

Flashback to a father slapping his child. A wife tells her husband that "sometimes I just want to squeeze your face off," while a man calls his wife "useless." A teen's panic attacks look somewhat disturbing. James exhibits suicidal ideation but doesn't act on it. A character who sneaks into a strip club ends up wrestling a bouncer (no one is injured). A character is forcibly dragged out of a club. Teens infiltrate a secret club (seemingly a cult) but aren't hurt.

Sex

Several references to sexual behavior, acts, and positions. A teen says his friend needs to "get laid," "do sex," "find a lady and kiss her where she pees from," etc. Discussion of having sex with an older (married) woman. Three teens leave a closet one after another, implying group sexual activity. A character cries about her ex claiming they did several sexual things. A statue of a naked, aroused man is revealed (characters in the movie gasp at the scene). Teens infiltrate a sex cult (before anything sexual happens). A man says he knew a young woman and that they enjoyed their "holy places" together. James imagines flirting with the pick-up line "Are you Middle-Eastern dictator? Because there's a dangerous uprising in my pants." 

Language

A couple uses of "f--k," plus more than a dozen bleeped "f--k"s, mostly from a reality TV show that several characters watch. Occasional strong language includes "s--t," "d--k," "a--hole, "damn," "goddamn," "whore," "fire crotch," and "screw you."

Consumerism

Mercedes, Volvo, Converse, Pentax.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink at a high school "champagne party." One person gets drugged and is later shown passed out; another teen throws up. Adults drink at a strip club. James asks whether his sister is a cocaine addict or drug dealer to explain why she's missing. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets is based on Evan Roskos' award-winning 2013 young adult novel about a 16-year-old boy struggling with depression and anxiety. Starring Lucas Jade Zumann as James Whitman, who feels a kinship with poet Walt Whitman, the movie features occasional strong language (a couple of uses of "f--k," several bleeped "f--k"s, and more), sexual innuendo (references to specific acts/positions, losing virginity, masturbation, etc.), flashbacks to a moment of parental abuse, and underage drinking and drug use at high school parties. In one scene, viewers see a statue of a naked, aroused male body. Families who watch together can talk about the importance of taking care of your mental health, getting appropriate professional help when needed, persevering through challenges, and communicating clearly and honestly at home, with friends, and in romantic relationships.

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Teen, 13 years old Written byJatp_Fan_forlife March 25, 2021

15+ is a bit much

This is about a boy dealing with trauma and anxiety. I think it a pretty good movie. Depends on the person and what they like to see. There's swearing here... Continue reading

What's the story?

In director Yaniv Raz' DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS, 16-year-old James Whitman (Lucas Jade Zumann) starts every morning with a Walt Whitman-esque "Song to Myself," has imaginary therapy with a pigeon (the titular Dr. Bird), and mourns his older sister, Jorie, who mysteriously went missing a month earlier because of their abusive father, aka "The Brute" (Jason Isaacs). James, who deals with his depression, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts through his ongoing "conversations" with Dr. Bird (whose words of wisdom are voiced by Tom Wilkinson), isn't a total misfit at his private school thanks to his friendship with cool, foreign-born stuent Kwame (Odiseas Kwame Georgiadis), who believes that James just needs to get lucky with a girl. James does have a serious crush on beautiful classmate Sophie (Taylor Russell), who approaches him about a graphic poem Jorie was supposed to submit to the literary journal. James suggests that the two of them team up to look for Jorie (and the poem), and as they hunt for clues and gather evidence, they grow closer. Meanwhile, James' mental health continues to suffer without proper treatment.

Is it any good?

This quirky adaptation of Evan Roskos' YA novel benefits from charming performances and positive messages about the importance of mental health. Zumann's earnest portrayal of a somewhat unreliable protagonist helps audiences feel invested in his story. Those familiar with young adult books will recognize key elements of the plot and characterization: teens with idiosyncracies (James' love of poetry, a classmate who acts like he's a British aristocrat, aspiring hipsters with elaborate facial hair) and all-consuming emotions that signal stories about anxious, constantly self-reflecting, emotionally unbalanced high school students. And that doesn't even cover the main conceit -- that James receives imaginary psychological care from a pigeon he calls Dr. Bird. (With his empathetic gravitas, Wilkinson is an outstanding pick for the voice work.)

Zumann and Russell are impressive young actors, and Dr. Bird offers an example of how they possess a notable range even as they continue to play teen characters. They don't quite have an electric romantic chemistry -- for that, watch Russell and another Lucas (Hedges) in Waves or Zumann and AmyBeth McNulty in Anne with an E -- but their onscreen relationship is sweetly developed. That said, this isn't a YA movie that centers romance, and there's a more realistic approach to the young couple than is evident in other teen-targeted movies. This is James' story, and he captures his issues best when he replies to the notion of "mind over matter" with the question of "what if your mind is what's the matter?" Anyone craving more page-to-screen YA movies will find this is a decent addition to the subgenre of stories about misfit, misunderstood teens struggling with mental illness while experiencing first love.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets depicts mental health. Why is it important for people to take care of their mental health and to seek/have access to professional help?

  • Discuss the movie's portrayal of underage drinking. Is it realistic? Are there realistic consequences for alcohol use? Why does that matter?

  • How do the characters demonstrate the importance of communication and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

  • For those who've read the book the movie is based on, how does the film follow the spirit of the novel? What did you think of the changes in the page-to-screen adaptation?

Movie details

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