The Discoverers (2014)



Critic Consensus: The Discoverers is occasionally guilty of contrived silliness, but its humor and genuine warmth are more than enough to compensate for its modest shortcomings.

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Movie Info

Washed-up history professor Lewis Birch (Oscar and Emmy nominated Griffin Dunne) takes his begrudging teenage kids - Zoe (Madeleine Martin, "Californication") and Jack (Devon Graye, "American Horror Stories") - on a road trip to a conference in hopes of putting his career back on track. But, when Lewis's estranged father Stanley (Emmy Award-winning Stuart Margolin) goes AWOL on a Lewis and Clark historical reenactment trek, Lewis is forced to make a family detour. The Birch family find themselves on a journey of discovery and connection as they make their own passage west.(C) Official Site
Comedy , Drama , Kids & Family
Directed By:
Written By:
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Griffin Dunne
as Lewis Birch
Madeleine Martin
as Zoe Birch
Cara Buono
as Nell Pope
Stuart Margolin
as Stanley Birch
David Rasche
as Cyrus Marshall
Devon Graye
as Jack Birch
Dreama Walker
as Abigail Marshall
John C. McGinley
as Bill Birch
Becky Ann Baker
as Mary Marshall
Scott Adsit
as Harry Hardcore
Ann Dowd
as Patti
Ato Essandoh
as Winston
Marceline Hugot
as Assistant Dean
Todd Susman
as Dr. Salter
Hannah Dunne
as Student
Harrison Holzer
as Bully Kid
Joe Aniska
as Shipping Clerk
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Critic Reviews for The Discoverers

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (9)

A warm, endearing, and surprisingly intelligent road comedy about a hopelessly dysfunctional family ...

Full Review… | June 26, 2014
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

Schwarz can't make enough out of that goofy notion - visually or narratively - to get a comic steam going. But there are sidebar pleasures to be found ...

June 19, 2014
Seattle Times
Top Critic

Dunne creates a full-blooded character. The film around him, unfortunately, takes low-key to the realm of tepid.

Full Review… | May 29, 2014
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

"The Discoverers" counters its many contrivances with relaxed pacing and an evocative sense of the American woodlands by bonfire light.

Full Review… | May 15, 2014
New York Times
Top Critic

The unusually grizzled Dunne excels. Sadly, the movie is marred by tepid, often crass comedy.

Full Review… | May 15, 2014
New York Daily News
Top Critic

Writer-director Schwarz has a lot of fun with this nutty premise. And more important, the twisted dynamics of this particular family ring true.

Full Review… | May 14, 2014
New York Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Discoverers


Although it feels like most "dead beat dad reinvesting in his children's lives" films out there (and trust me there's a lot of them), there's enough heart and earnest sweetness here that it's impossible to hate. I really loved the performances in this film from Dunne's intellectual who can't quite get his break to Martin who plays Dunne's disenchanted daughter. The characters, although humorous caricatures, felt like real people in the midst of all the craziness around them. There are enough laughs and enough sweet moments to justify its 105 minute run time, and you could do worse when searching for films on Netflix.

Nathan Martin
Nathan Martin

In some small part, this film about is about loving America, and its history, without being an obnoxious, revisionist, jingoistic jackass about it. Yes, tea baggers, I'm looking at you. Learn to be humble for once. But, really, that's a small part of this film. This is a story about grief, and how that can be incredibly powerful emotion that can force a person to lose touch with reality, dysfunctional families, reaching your potential, and everything in between. This is a family dramedy at its core. And I think it works, for the most part, thanks to it smart writing, talented cast, and a lot of heart. I will admit, however, that it definitely takes a while before, I felt, this movie really gets going. Everything was set-up well, you know what's going, why it's going on, and the cast does a good job at getting the point across, but I did't really start to get into the movie until, at the very least, halfway through. The film is never bad, at any point, it was just a little rough to get into. I don't know what it was exactly, whether it was the pacing or something else, maybe the story of this man trying to reconnect with his father, who, for some reason treats him like a piece of crap over an incident that happened in their past, after his mother's death. Trying to figure out how to get through to this man who seems to be stuck in his own fantasy world because he's not able to cope with reality is a fairly good story to tell. Retracing Lewis' and Clark's expedition with history buffs, think civil war reenactments, is really just a means to an end. But it does lead to some entertaining moments and some funny lines from Zoe about how they're celebrating the subjugation of the native Indians. Madeleine Martin, who played Zoe, is a really funny actress. She's got a dry and deadpan delivery, something of a like female Bill Murray. Except she's not as great as Murray, but that's who she reminds me of. I digress, however, she gets the best lines and I think her relationship with her father, and how that's developed, is in some ways the emotional core of the film. Granted, it's still about Lewis trying to find a way to connect to his father, but I think, since the film sees Lewis' father being a massive cock, that his relationship with Zoe is the best part of the film. Admittedly, it leads to some silliness once Zoe finds out she's gotten her first period. But I think it works better than I would've anticipated. There's also some silliness during the "expedition", and this was to be expected, but I don't think that the movie makes fun of people who choose to do this. They do present it, at least from the perspective of one of the characters, as being incredibly freeing and relaxing. And I can see how they would think that. The film, unfortunately, is pretty much every indie dramedy you have ever seen. It fits that template very nicely and it doesn't really stray much too far from it. That might not be fair to say about this movie, since I'm sure no one likes their film to be stereotyped, but it is what it is. People, whether you like it or not, are going to react that way. They're gonna compare it to other films of the same ilk they've seen. And that's not even saying it about me, even though I'm actually doing it, I just use it as a reference point for people who may want a simplified description of this film. Of course, not like anybody reads this, so I'm really just as guilty as the next guy. The film is surprisingly unsentimental. Once Stanley finds his way back to reality, coming to acceptance with his wife's death, it is pretty sad, but it's never manipulative in any way. There's no big reunion between father and son, with a sweeping, emotional score in the background to tell you exactly how to feel. It all plays out very subtly, which is the way it should be done. Stanley basically acknowledges that Lewis has done a pretty good job raising his kids, whereas he didn't. He didn't say it in as many words, but that's essentially what he said. There's hardly any music in the film at all, which is smart, because you're letting the actors' and actresses' performance speak for themselves. And I think it works. You come to really like the characters and you grow fond of them and that's what good character development is all about, at least in this form. Of course, different stories require different forms of character development. That goes without saying. And I think the movie ends quite beautifully with Lewis, not being able to go to the conference to give his speech that would give his 6,000+ page book about the Lewis and Clark expedition a better chance at being published, decides to give his speech to his loved ones and it was a sweet ending. Not cloying or sugary at all. It was just a sweet ending. This is a good movie, it's certainly not gonna set the world on fire, but it's more than good enough to warrant a watch on Netflix.

Jesse Ortega
Jesse Ortega

Super Reviewer

The Discoverers has, at least for the first half, the deft and funny touch of indie road hits Little Miss Sunshine and About Schmidt. Once in the woods, however, it takes a sharp left onto the beaten path.

Lee Mayo
Lee Mayo

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