In the tradition of Saving Grace, Waking Ned Devine and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, comes this offbeat Canadian comedy drama centers on a talented New York chef named Dave (William Hurt) whose Newfoundland restaurant The Auk is facing closure due to lack of interest. In order to prevent his best friend from leaving, Dave’s clever, paranoid and scheming dreamer sidekick Phonce (Andy Jones) concocts an ingenious plan to attract clientele by faking the sighting of an extremely rare bird. After the plan is set in motion and the popular local radio show vouches the fake tale, the tiny town is flooded by arrivals hoping to spot the bird and of course, sample Dave’s cuisine along the way. Meanwhile Dave finds himself falling for Phonce’s beautiful younger relative, college student Alice (capable character actress Molly Parker) and involved with a more dangerous plot involving Phonce’s discovery of a large quantity of drugs he’s found ashore. Written by Edward Riche who adapted the script from his own novel, the critically acclaimed production suffered a misfortunate fate in scheduling as it was set to make its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on September 11, 2001 according to critic Roger Ebert. While there was a makeup screening, understandably due to the horrors surrounding that terrible event, it was ill-attended and Rare Birds was carted off to a few festivals (earning the Audience Award at the Atlantic Film Festival) before being dumped onto DVD shelves. However, it’s worth tracking down for fans of Hurt looking for a fun ensemble piece that benefits greatly from the homey feel of the Newfoundland setting and can be screened 24/7 online as part of Netflix’s new Watch Instantly feature.
Fun fact: according to IMDb, the production was completed in just thirty days save for the final shot which was postponed seven months due to a snowfall. While the bulk of the budget had been spent on the production, the Lasse Hallstrom production of The Shipping News was filming nearby and the News crew shared some of their own manpower and equipment to help finish Rare Birds.
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