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.
In “The Discoverers”, Lewis Birch (Griffin Dunne) is a teacher living in Chicago who is trying to get a book published about York, the African slave best known for his participation with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On his way to Oregon to attend a college conference where he hopes to shop his novel around, he takes his two kids along with him, Zoe (Madeleine Martin) and Jack (Devon Graye), who are more interested in their iPods than in verbal communication with their dad or, indeed, each other. As he starts out on his cross-country trek, he gets a call from his brother Bill (John C. McGinley) who informs him that their mother is not doing too well. Lewis detours to his parents’ house where upon arrival, he finds his mother dead in the bathroom.
His estranged father Stanley (Stuart Margolin), falls into a deep depression and disassociates himself from everybody so Lewis decides to stay around, just in case his father needs him. One morning when he gets up, he can’t find Stanley and as he and his kids search frantically for him around town, Lewis suddenly remembers that every year when he was a kid, his father would take him on a Lewis & Clark re-enactment in the mountains nearby. He eventually finds him but can’t seem to snap him out of his imaginary portrayal as Captain Clark and against his better judgment, he, Zoe and Jack resolve to stay, in the hopes that Stanley will bounce back and return to some semblance of normal life.
“The Discoverers” is a simple tale about everyday things we all take for granted: family, friendship, life and it’s delivered to us in a very unpretentious manner with the story and the characters feeling very real. When the movie begins, we can tell that Lewis loves his kids and even though they’re more interested in their electronic gadgets, he never berates them that it’s a family trip and that they need to spend quality time together. He lets them be themselves and gradually, with a little nudge here and there, they begin to flourish. I’ve always loved Griffin Dunne as an actor, he was the best part of “An American Werewolf in London” and “After Hours” and here, he simply shines.
His Lewis is empathetic and he gives the story beautiful depth and subtlety while Ms. Martin’s Zoe depends on a constant supply of sarcasm to get her many points across yet she’s still capable of being charismatic and funny. The entire cast are perfect in their respective roles and I was so thankful by the end of the movie that Lewis and his two kids weren’t best friends, singing kumbaya around the campfire. Instead, the story offered each character the opportunity to grow and to get to know the person next to them and made each of them better off because of it. Although this is the directorial debut for Justin Schwarz, he can rest easy knowing that he has constructed a remarkably engaging movie full of energetic performances that stay with you long after the movie has finished.
In select theaters and at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas on August 29th