Wild Canaries Photo

Wild Canaries | Lawrence Michael Levine | SXSW 2014

Wild Canaries has its hands dipped deep within the waters of classic detective films. Only this time its about some amateur wannabe detectives in New York City. After Barri (Sophia Takal) finds her neighbor Sylvia (Marylouise Burke) dead of an apparent heart attack she is grief stricken. Barri becomes suspicious of Sylvia’s son Anthony (Kevin Corrigan) who doesn’t seem all that saddened by his mother’s tragic passing. In fact, she has suspicions that he may have even murdered her.

Barri soon becomes obsessed with what she believes to be a mystery, to the distress of her boyfriend Noah (played by director Lawrence Michael Levine). Barri lives with Noah, along with their roommate Jean (Alia Shawkat). Barri is hellbent on proving her theory correct, to the dismay of Noah who just doesn’t see it. It doesn’t help that Jean takes her side, joining her on their rogue mission as wannabe spies.

This brings trouble to their already rocky relationship between Barri and Noah. Noah starts to get his own suspicions about Barri’s relationship with Jean, who is a lesbian, and who according to Noah, may want to be more than friends. Barri on the other hand, starts to question why Noah is spending so much time with his co-worker Eleanor (Annie Parisse), who just happens to be his ex-girlfriend (and now lesbian). As you can tell, it all starts to get all out of hand between the lot of them.

Soon the whole gang gets pulled into Barri’s spy-game, with all eyes locked in on Anthony. They all soon become obsessed by this mystery, as it unfolds in ways none of them could have predicted. Soon you throw in their dysfunctional landlord Damien (Jason Ritter) and you got one giant mess.

Rooted in the spirit of classic mystery/detective films, Wild Canaries doesn’t mask its influences. That only works so long, as it has a loose comedic tone that makes it all feel a bit adrift. While it was sometimes cleverly funny, there was something about the film that just didn’t connect with me. Sophia Takal is likeable but lacked charisma. While watching I guessed that she might very well be the directors wife, and sure enough, I was right. Levine places himself as the co-star but is actually damn funny in the role so I can’t pick a gripe with that. Shawkat, Corrigan, Ritter and Parisse are all likeable enough in their respective roles.

The tone of Wild Canaries is very light and goofy. It never quite found a level footing of balance between its comedic bits and serious bits. I never quite found myself pulled by the film in any way, even though I shared a chuck;e here and there. When the mystery is finally solved, it’s done is somewhat a rushed and unsatisfying fashion that doesn’t pay off.

Ultimately Wild Canaries is a guilt-free bit of fun, but a forgettable mixed bag.