James Whitman (Lucas Jade Zumann), a teenager who favors an everyday wardrobe of button-down shirts and suspenders, is very big on another Whitman: Walt. Upon waking in the morning, he recites: “I am light! I am truth! I am might! I am youth!” — his stab at a “Leaves of Grass”-style song of himself.
This is the only actual poetry, such as it is, concocted by its title “sad poet.” (Dr. Bird is an imaginary therapist, taking the form of a pigeon.) For James, figuring out social relationships, particularly with the opposite sex, and negotiating family problems, of which he has plenty, occupy more of his time than writing. And because James has depression and anxiety, these emotional concerns are tougher on him than other adolescents.
This sounds familiar, and it is. But “Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets,” written and directed by Yaniv Raz from a novel by Evan Roskos, aims to lend its commonplace elements distinction via a lot of filmmaking frippery.
As he pursues a potential new girlfriend, Sophie (Taylor Russell), and searches for his runaway older sister, we see the way James sees, or would like to see. A girl’s irises are overlaid by images of daisies. The incarnation of Walt Whitman appears in sepia-tinted fantasy sequences. James and Sophie’s dates become a French-style black-and-white romance, or a colorful dance number.
The movie gets so drunk on its stylistic affectations (and unfunny attempts at cerebral comedy) that by the time it sobers up to take James’s mental health seriously, it’s too little, too late. And also too bad, as it’s only in the last quarter that the viewer gets to appreciate the range of the movie’s appealing lead players.