A benign boilerplate indie character study in which quirky and cute stand in for thorny and troubled, A Bird of the Air, based on the novel The Loop by Texas writer Joe Coomer, revolves around Lyman (Jackson Hurst), a thirtyish isolato who works nights for the New Mexico highway department and by day resists the flirtation of college librarian Fiona (Rachel Nichols). His drain-circling is disrupted when a parrot with a repertoire of cryptic phrases appears at his trailer home. Lyman sets out to trace the origins of the bird's vocabulary with Fiona's help, working his way through a succession of previous owners (played in appealing cameos by Buck Henry, Anjanette Comer, and Gary Farmer, among others) and eventually coming out of his shell enough to warm to his companion and, by extension, his species. Not a bad premise, but first-time director Margaret Whitton fails to temper the sappiness with real human crustiness, making the stakes for Lyman and Fiona vaporous at best. The cast detracts, too—Fiona, a flighty loner in the book, is a grating twit in Nichols's hands, and Hurst, while likeable, is flat and too hunky. The bird's got more charisma, which in a better movie would've been the point.

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