TMN Movie Review: "The Discoverers"

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A road movie about a dysfunctional family who embark on a Lewis and Clark re-enactment trek and discover themselves and each other in the process.
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Rating: NR
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: October 6, 2012
Directed by: Justin Schwarz
Genre: Comedy

"The Discoverers" is a whimsical family adventure about life, coming of age and exploring new horizons. The Birch family is headed by none other than Lewis Birch, a well-respected academic and author who is better known for his earlier works than anything he has produced within the past couple of decades. When a family tragedy strikes and Lewis learns that his mother has passed away before he can reach her, the family's quiet life is turned on its head.

Towards the beginning of the film, Lewis is saddled with the responsibility of caring for his newly widowed father, Stanley. Lewis' brother informs him that Stanley is completely incapable of living on his own and requires constant supervision. Stanley happens to be a colonial enthusiast with a passion for re-enactments of some of history's greatest battles. He convinces his son and two grandchildren, Jack and Zoe, to set out with him on a cross-country re-enactment of Lewis and Clark's famous trek. The children are less than enthused, caught up in all the adolescent drama and comfort of their modern lives, and Lewis is far from happy about the idea himself. However, determined to help his father cope with the loss of his wife, Lewis forces his family to go along with Stanley on an adventure none of them will ever forget.

When the Birch family reaches a re-enactment camp, they meet Dreama Walker's character Abigail, a beautiful young actress whose passion for living the traditions of yesterday surprises young Jack. Lewis himself begins to fall for Nell, a whimsical and intelligent woman who challenges his own obsession with academics and prestige. While the Birch family is initially hesitant to embrace the simple way of life, they soon begin to see its virtues as well. By the end of the film, the entire family is forced to question whether they rescued Stanley or if he saved them from a life of never living up to their true potential.

Director Justin Schwarz somehow managed to craft the perfect recipe for a film that is equally witty and heartfelt. The acting is pitch perfect across the board, Griffin Dunne truly steals the show in his role as Lewis Birch. Lewis is an extremely relatable character, focused on the glory of yesterday so much so that he forgets how to live in the moment. Lewis proves that sometimes the greatest competition a person will ever face comes from his past self. When Lewis stumbles upon the much simpler setting of the re-enactment camp, he is forced to consider whether the notoriety and prestige he once had is really worth the effort. He also begins to wonder if he is really doing right by his family by allowing them to remain so caught up in their own little worlds.

Contrasting sharply with Lewis' aging plight, Jack and Zoe present plenty of teenage drama of their own. Zoe is a modern flower child whose love of the environment and animals goes on only as long as she still has access to social media. Like her brother Jack, she is entirely resistant to the idea of going on a wilderness excursion. When they reach camp, she is left unimpressed by the colonial ways of the other women and wants nothing more than to go home. However, the teenagers begin to fall into step with a new way of life and build their own attachments to the strange little community. At the same time, they learn more about their family and themselves than they have on any other family vacation.

The most endearing aspect about the cinematography of "The Discoverers" is how well the director manages to contrast the Birch family life in the city to the stripped down life led by the re-enactors. The music is undeniably quirky with plenty of independent artists and a perfect mixture of melancholic and upbeat songs. Even the wardrobe chosen throughout the film perfectly accents the storyline, especially when the Birch family's modern duds are sharply judged by their new colonial friends. Watching the characters gradually immerse themselves into a new way of life is made all the more meaningful by these subtle, yet powerful auditory and visual effects.

"The Discoverers" is a heartfelt family film that delights on all fronts, from acting and story to music and pace. The Birch family is wholly relatable, and their wilderness excursions lead to some of the best situational comedy in the genre. From start to finish, audiences will love discovering new horizons with the Birch family in this charming comedic offering.