After the passing of their mother, sisters Rachel and Mona have found solace within the walls of their childhood home while leaning on one another for support. This relationship has suited them well for some time as each sister has created their own worlds, but recent changes threatens to sever what few threads remain that’s keeping everything together.
When you’re having to express your opinion on a movie, it does become a bit of a challenge knowing where the line is that separates what a movie is and what it is that you want it to be. Steven Richter’s sophomore film, “Birds of Neptune”, is by all accounts a good movie and one that feels like I should have liked more than I did. However, during the movie, I couldn’t help but spend most of the time thinking about how I would have preferred things to have been done differently.
Sisters Rachel and Mona have been dependent on one another ever since their mother passed away. Within the walls of their childhood home, they have each created their own realities in order to help them cope. Rachel, with her music, and Mona with her various forms of artistic self-expression — they have managed to find their own unique ways of getting by. Things have a way of changing, and with Rachel preparing to head off for college, and Mona bringing Zach — an aspiring psychologist she met at one of her performances — into their home, the bond that kept these two together begins to separate. With the growing anxiety and frustration the sisters have, they are inevitably forced to face parts of their past that they’ve tried to keep buried through their fantasies and delusions.
I’ll admit, it’s egotistical to judge a movie from the standpoint of, “well, this is how you should have told your story” if there’s nothing overtly wrong with how the story is told in the first place. In the case of, “Birds of Neptune” — a character film — all of the characters serve a purpose and do what they need to do in order to progress the story further. And while the movie is centered around sisters Mona (Molly Elizabeth Parker) and Rachel (Britt Harris), the remaining characters also aide in informing you of Mona and Rachel’s world without ever bogging the movie down with needless exposition. Based on the interactions they have, you understand the environment within the film and where these people come from.
The character that becomes tricky is Kurt Conroyd’s character Zach who is ultimately the antagonist of the film. The problem that I have with this character is that this story didn’t need an antagonist; the inevitable separation facing the sisters is the only element that was needed for there to be conflict. And that’s not to be dismissive of the writing behind Zach, because it is a well written and defined character that’s supported by a solid performance from Kurt. The issue stems from the fact that this character and element takes center stage. The time spent with Zach could have been better served by having the audience become more involved in the world these two sisters have created from themselves.
And again, it’s not a bad character. Zach’s interaction with Mona and Rachel, and inevitable attempt to control them, lets you understand all three on an emotional and mental level. While Mona and Rachel have found strength as a result of being left alone in this world, you see how easily manipulated they are — relating to their past — from Zach seizing control of the house with little effort. Even when the characters can see him for who he really is, he’s still able to take advantage by using their wants and their needs against them.
While Zach is the antagonist, he is also the vessel that allows the audience to be inserted into Rachel and Mona’s world. He succeeds at being both, but that antagonist element detracts from the audience building a relationship with the sisters — we’re more occupied with how his presence changes their lives rather than the relationship the women have with one another and how its dissolving. Because it’s taking away from the importance and the focal point, I couldn’t help but think how the character Thor — a young man who takes an interest in Rachel — would have been a much more satisfying character to follow. One that would have allowed the audience an insight into the lives of Rachel and Mona. Through him, would could have understood these characters equally as well as we did with Zach but without the loss of focus because of Thor’s general innocence and naivety. It would have allowed the development of the story to maintain a more natural progress — again using the reality of people growing apart to be the catalyst in the story — and helped the audience in developing a better, stronger relationship with the sisters.
In general, I do have some other minor quibbles with the movie, such as the unnecessary subplots involving a pregnancy and an affair. The story itself is pretty light — as to be expected with a character piece — but I have a feeling there was suppose to be some greater meaning to all of this. Something, at the very least, hinted at by Mona when she tells Thor the Neptune story. Regardless, what the movie is hinged on is the relationship between Rachel and Mona, and to a degree, “Birds of Neptune” succeeds because the characters are fleshed out (all of them) and the writing was there. The problem is that there is an element to the movie that does more to detract, and had it been removed, I think, would have resulted in a much better movie.
To take this back to the beginning; the issues that I had with the movie come from my own personal preference of how I would have liked to have seen the characters and the movie develop. Overall, I enjoyed watching “Birds of Neptune” because I liked that it was centered around two female characters and because the characters were well written. And I wouldn’t call “Birds of Neptune” a bad movie either, even though I didn’t necessarily like it myself (for the reasons mentioned above). With that being said, whether the movie is good or not is dependent on the individual viewer. If its concept sounds interesting to you, I say give it a shot.