“The Discoverers” has plenty of heart and laughs to tug at your heartstrings and tickle your funny bone.
The story is about Lewis (Griffin Dunne), a history professor living far below his true potential and hating every minute of it. With his 6,000-page history opus on the verge of being published, Lewis can finally see a light at the end of his tunnel. But just as Lewis begins to fly high, a family tragedy brings him crashing back to earth. Now, as Lewis embarks on a Lewis and Clark re-enactment trek with his two estranged children (Madeleine Martin and Devon Graye), he’ll discover there’s more to him than he could have ever imagined.
Dysfunctional families setting out on trips of accidental self-discovery is nothing new to cinema, and after the success of “Little Miss Sunshine,” more entries into the genre have popped up — more often than not with unsatisfying results. But Justin Schwarz has crafted a touching and hilarious story with characters so quirky and relatable that you can’t help but fall in love with them. I think this comes from the advantage of writing and directing. Schwarz is able to orchestrate his story exactly to his liking.
Dunne does an exceptional job of bringing Lewis to life, and every second he’s on screen is a joy. In the beginning, you can tell he isn’t happy with the way his professional or personal lives are going. He’s a brilliant historian reduced to working part-time at a community college where standards aren’t set very high and moonlighting as a security guard. The only saving grace for Lewis is that his life’s work is about to be published. Dunne does a beautiful job of making you sympathetic for his character because he could easily be perceived as pathetic.
Martin and Graye are both fantastic as Jack and Zoe. Unfortunately, Graye isn’t given as much time to shine as Martin, but he uses the time well so the audience becomes invested in his character. Martin gives an extremely smart performance and definitely goes toe-to-toe with Dunne. Lewis and Zoe’s interactions are funny and heartwarming.
While “The Discoverers” is an extremely strong movie, it does have its flaws, however minor they may be. The biggest flaw for me is the lack of focus on any one relationship. Lewis and Zoe’s get the most attention, but Lewis’ relationships with his father, son and love interest seem to be glazed over.
Overall, “The Discoverers” is a fantastic film and should be the hit of the film festival. Despite some focus issues, I loved everything about this film and hope it gets the attention it deserves.