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Bird Film Review: “Everything Will Be Ok”

A girls lies in the water with her head pointing at the sky in the 2024 film Bird

Andrea Arnold’s Bird is filmmaking of the highest quality, acting as both an invite to be exactly who we want to be and a reminder that, in the end, “everything will be ok.”

Director: Andrea Arnold
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age
Run Time: 119′
World Premiere: May 16, 2024
Release Date: TBA
Where to watch: Cannes Film Festival

Should our parents define who we are? Can we ever really be free of the trauma that shaped us or are we doomed to repeat their mistakes? When do we stop waiting for our family to change and decide to be our own person? Andrea Arnold’s Bird tackles these questions and more, revolving around two characters who find each other exactly when they needed it the most, and who are both in desperate need of a family.

The first is Bailey (newcomer Nykiya Adams), who’s 12 years old and lives in a squat in North Kent with a father who treats her more like an accessory to his own life than like a daughter. When we first meet single dad Bug (Barry Keoghan, of The Killing of a Sacred Deer), he excitedly gives Bailey a hideous outfit. She’s supposed to wear it to his wedding that coming Sunday – only, Bailey didn’t even know he had proposed to his girlfriend Debs (Joanne Matthews), whom he’s only been dating for three months and who’s about to move in with them. When Bailey refuses to wear the outfit and be a bridesmaid, Bug starts acting exactly like a child: it doesn’t take long to realize that Bailey is the adult in this relationship.

Bailey likes recording moments from her life, and is particularly fascinated with nature and insects. Sometimes, she also films the abusive people in her extended family when things are about to get violent, as a way of preventing things from escalating even further and ultimately protecting herself and the people she loves. One day, as she’s out on her own, hanging out with some horses on a field, a stranger (Franz Rogowski, of Passages) approaches her, and she immediately hits record, urging him to stay away. But the man reacts in a completely unexpected way. Instead of getting angrier at her, he smiles and starts prancing around in an innocent, child-like way, putting on a performance for her.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The day,” says the stranger, introducing himself as Bird, and, just like that, she’s inexplicably drawn to him. As the days go by, Bird becomes a constant presence in her life. He’s often a quiet one, as he has a habit of standing on the rooftop of the building opposite her house in a weird but oddly reassuring way, since she can see him from her bedroom’s window. But Bird is just as lost as she is – perhaps even more so – and he’s on his own quest, which also involves family. As Bailey realizes that she might be able to help him, an adventure begins that feels almost like a fairytale: time seems to stop as the girl takes a break from her own world and enters Bird’s, and they both grow into the people they were meant to be.

The Cannes red carpet for the 2024 film Bird
(L-R) Andrea Arnold, Jasmine Jobson, Carlos O’Connell, Nykiya Adams, Frankie Box, Jason Buda, Franz Rogowski and Barry Keoghan attend the “Bird” Red Carpet at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 16, 2024 in Cannes, France. (Daniele Venturelli / WireImage)

To call Bird a coming of age tale would be reductive, as what Andrea Arnold has crafted here is so much more than that. There are coming of age elements to it, but the movie is first and foremost about a series of characters – Bird, Bailey, Bug and Debs, but also Bailey’s mum (Jasmine Jobson, of Surge) and her abusive boyfriend (Rhys Yates), her half-brother Skate (James Nelson-Joyce, of The Nest) and his girlfriend, and her three little sisters, who live with her mum – who all find themselves in difficult situations more out of circumstance than choice. Arnold doesn’t blame any of her characters: she treats them all with the same empathy, and what we get is an incredibly authentic snapshot of a family’s life, where we see their flaws but also their humanity.

It’s an intimate story that will remind viewers of Fish Tank, Arnold’s most universally beloved film. Yet, it also feels much more complex and mature, with a dreamlike quality that enables the director to deliver an almost otherworldly experience. There are hilarious scenes, cheesy moments, and even self-aware references that Saltburn fans will appreciate, but there is also a great deal of poetry in this stunning film, mostly conveyed through magic realism, which Arnold and cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Poor Things) master flawlessly. What exactly happens in the movie is best left unspoiled, but there’s a scene at the end where our two protagonist are finally able to see each other for who they really are, and to eventually become their real selves, and it’s quite simply groundbreaking.

On top of this, nothing is left to chance: every single relationship in the film adds something meaningful to it, allowing Bird to tackle a myriad of themes, from identity and growing up to family and redemption. It’s astonishing to think that Bird is Nykiya Adams‘s first movie, as she is simply superb as Bailey. She doesn’t even need to talk to convey the chaos that inhabits her mind – impressively amplified by the film’s sound design (Sound of Metal‘s Nicolas Becker) – and yet, at the same time, she also comes across as a determined young woman who’s not a victim, but a survivor.

Franz Rogowski and Barry Keoghan are both standouts, the former delivering a wonderfully quirky yet incredibly humane turn as the titular character and the latter shining in a role that lets him bring so much depth, and also a pinch of irony, to the character. The soundtrack, containing tracks from various genres that perfectly fit the mood of each scene, imbues the film with so much personality and is at the core of some of its very best scenes.

While I was watching Bird, I found myself sobbing, giggling, dancing in my seat and singing along, gazing at the screen in awe, and completely overwhelmed with emotion – and every single time, I didn’t see it coming. Arnold’s film is an intimate, introspective tale that is reminiscent of Fish Tank in the best possible ways, but it’s also its own thing, due to how much more layered it feels. Both uplifting and thought-provoking, Bird is both an invite to embrace the version of us that feels more real and surround ourselves with the people who can see us, and a reminder that, in the end, “everything will be ok.”

Bird premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2024. The film will be distributed by MUBI in the UK & Ireland. Read our list of 20 films to watch at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival!

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Header credit: Atsushi Nishijima, © 2024 House Bird Limited, Ad Vitam Production, British Broadcasting Corporation, The British Film Institute, Pinky Promise Film Fund II Holdings LLC, FirstGen Content LLC and Bird Film LLC.

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