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- Category: Judy Thorburn
- Published on 15 October 2011
- Written by Judy Thorburn
The Big Year
This movie is for the birds. I'm kidding. “The Big Year” focuses on extreme bird “watchers”, people who are so driven that they are willing to put everything aside in search of capturing a view of rare, identifiable species. Movie going bird enthusiasts should have a 'field day'.
Under the direction of David Frankel, working from Howard Franklin's screenplay inspired by Mark Obmascik’s non-fiction book, Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson star as three very different men who share one common obsession, bird watching.
Brad Harris (Black) is a divorced 36 year old that lives with his parents, supportive mother Brenda (Dianne Wiest) and dad Raymond (Brian Dennehy) who doesn't get nor approve of his son's obsession. Brad works full time as a computer code writer, but his real passion is bird watching and he is a master of recognizing different breeds just by their sound. Refraining from his usual over the top shenanigans, the overly chubby Black, has never been more cute and lovable.
Stu Preissler (Martin) is a rich New York industrialist who has it all, a loving and understanding wife, (Jo Beth Williams) and family, a building named after him, and two luxurious homes, one in NY and another in Vail, Colorado. But all he wants is to retire and live his dream that he has had since childhood, and we know what that is.
Rounding out the trio of main characters is Ken Bostick (Owen Wilson) a successful contractor in Wyoming, whose claim to fame is winning the title of champion bird watcher - the greatest “birder” in the world with a record number of 732 sightings in one calendar year. Although married to Jessica (Rosamund Pike), a smart and beautiful woman who loves him and wants to have his baby, nothing means more to Ken than bird watching. Afraid that someone is going to beat him, Stu is willing to sacrifice his marriage, work angles and lie, in order to defend his title and refuses to let anything, except cheating, get in the way of his mission. He says it is his calling, not unlike Mozart and his music. Yeah, right!
The story unfolds as all three go on a quest to find the most species of birds within a calendar year, which means participating in an actual bird watching competition known as "The Big Year". The thing is, no one wants to admit they're doing a "Big Year" in hopes of undermining their competitors. Of course, you have to be able to afford the cost of traveling across North America in search of sightings. Thankfully, Brad's mom is willing to back him financially.
Anyway, Brad and Stu eventually team up in hopes of beating the defending champion, and during their many travels and adventures come to realize what is most important in their lives.
Brad meets and falls for Ellie, a pretty and sweet natured fellow birdwatcher (Rashida Jones) who has a gift for mimicking bird calls. Stu's plans get interrupted because the corporate world keeps calling him back and he is forced to make a life changing decision. And Kenny's over bearing obsession becomes too much for his neglected wife to withstand.
Anjelica Huston is featured in a minor, cameo role as cantankerous Alaskan boat captain that dislikes Bostick with a vengeance. I would have liked to have seen more of her character.
A movie about bird watching may not be your thing. However, it is informative and you might learn a thing or two about the little flying creatures that share our world. More to the point, bird watching, as I see it, is used as just another plot device to get to the heart and message of the story.
The Big Year is a mild mannered, non offensive film that gives us a “bird's” eye view of three guys on a personal quest to achieve something that was, unknowingly, within their grasp. The movie has its charm, some comical moments and a great cast. But, unlike the trio of guys and their mission, I wouldn't go that far out of my way to see it.
P.S. On a personal note, in my early twenties I was an avid bird watcher, and having grown up on the east coast, enjoyed going to bird sanctuaries throughout New England to capture a glimpse of the various species that made their home in the those neck of the woods. It was a sideline hobby that took me on fascinating, memorable adventures, but it never became an obsession.