The Big Year – Review (2)


Promising cast in a movie that’s mostly for the birds

Every once in awhile, we need to do things that seem crazy in order to follow our heart, to make our dreams come true. Everyone might tell you it isn’t possible, everyone might think you’ve lost your mind, but you know in your heart that you just have to DO this crazy thing to have a better life. Everyone has a crazy dream. Each of the men in The Big Year have different reasons for pursuing their dream, but the dream is the same: to break the record for seeing the most different species of bird in a single year.

“The Big Year” is an ambitious goal that involves traveling the continent by any means necessary (usually by maxing out credit cards and depleting life savings) in order to view as many birds as possible in one year. The previous world record of 732 birds was set by Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), a professional birder with several failed marriages and another marriage on the rocks. Successful businessman Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) announces his retirement, to the dismay of his coworkers, and embarks on his Big Year with sweet, comedic support from his wife (JoBeth Williams). Brad Harris (Jack Black) has had failed careers, a failed marriage, and at age 36, still lives with his parents but his dream of having a Big Year and defeating Bostick’s record will finally be realized even without the support of anyone.

The backstories and lives of these three guys should really be the focus of The Big Year, but the focus tends to linger on the birds they are watching. The obsessed men spout facts about each species of bird they happen to find like the movie is an extended, humorous National Geographic documentary. Each time the men hear about a specific rare bird being spotted in a remote part of the country, they get a crazed gleam in their eyes and the next thing we know, they’ve found a way to get there. You’d think flying around the country to all these beautiful destinations would be enough, and occasionally the camera pans out from the birds so we can take in these landscapes. But most of the time, the focus is on the birds. With the fantastic comedic cast and the experienced director, expectations for this movie are going to be so much higher.

By the last act in the movie, we get to finally see the toll that this Big Year has taken on each of their lives, for better or worse. Bostick sees another marriage crumble, but Stu finally gets to realize his dream and even grows closer to his wife, and Brad discovers a bond between him and his dad (Brian Dennehey). It’s in this last 30 minutes or so that The Big Year actually feels like the comedy we were hoping for all along; when we can finally root for these actors we love so much because they’ve realized their dream. It’s just a shame that their dream is so…dull.

Director: David Frenkel
Notable Cast: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Brian Dennehey, Anjelica Huston
Writer(s): Howard Franklin, based on the novel “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession” by Mark Obmascik

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