A ponytailed, middle-aged former musician, Bittner recounts coming to San Francisco with ambitions of becoming a rock star, only to spend years without a home. Almost by accident, he finds himself first an avid watcher, then the self-appointed caretaker of the titular parrots, a flock of tropical birds that probably originated as abandoned pets. (The film puckishly presents competing urban legends of their origins.)
The parrots become more than just Bittner's abiding obsession - they bring purpose to his rootless life. At the time of filming, the amateur ornithologist lived on the largesse of others with no source of income.
Like Dian Fossey of Gorillas in the Mist fame, Bittner is practically on a first-name basis with the birds. He can distinguish seemingly identical parrots by name, and identify when they pair up and "break up" or even mourn when a partner dies. Bittner seems to find kinship with "Connor," a parrot who has the status of both respected elder and cranky outsider. Bittner persuasively argues that he doesn't impose human traits on the parrots, but observes the birds' genuine feelings.
With green plumage and red faces, the "cherry head" parrots make appealing subjects - Bittner likens them more to monkeys than other birds. And Irving gives the film the relaxed, ambling structure of an afternoon in the park. Just when your attention starts to wander, a crisis emerges and Bittner faces the prospect of bidding his feathered friends good-bye. Though hardly a beloved pet tearjerker like Old Yeller, Wild Parrots' bittersweet final section proves surprisingly moving and demonstrates how animals can teach us unexpected lessons about ourselves. Plus, Wild Parrots' stranger-than-fiction final twist charmingly affirms the notion that birds of a feather flock together. Opens Fri., May 6. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
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