Paulie [1998]

The human beings are almost as interesting as the title character in this surprisingly subtle and engaging film about the cross-country adventures of a smart-mouthed parrot. As director John Roberts deploys the footage, the bird becomes a vivid personality; every quizzical twist of his head is oddly expressive. The people who interact with Paulie are a quirky and interesting bunch as well, and the casting is topnotch: Tony Shalhoub (The Siege) as a Russian immigrant janitor, Cheech Marin as an open-hearted mariachi musician, and Gena Rowlands as a widowed painter in a footloose Winnebago--all are vividly eccentric individuals, memorable in their own right. There are some tired swipes at the cold-blooded meanies of Big Science (beady-eyed researcher Bruce Davison has Paulie clapped in irons), but for the most part the film respects the complexity of everyone's motivations, and that's virtually unheard of in today's Hollywood, even in films supposedly designed for grownups. --David Chute

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