There is a covert event that occurs across North America annually. The participants spend thousands of dollars, travel hundreds of kilometres and endure a range of climates all for the prestige title of Best Birder. The Big Year
revolves around three men’s pursuit of this designation.
Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is an overworked CEO who’s finally taking some time for himself after years of devoting every hour to his job. Unfortunately, his executives pester him regularly, unable to manage without his expertise. Brad Harris (Jack Black) is 36 and has never achieved anything significant in his life; but with his ability to recognize any bird by its song, he believes he can have a big year. Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) is the reigning champion birder having set a record last year, but he’s so fearful of someone taking his title that he risks his marriage to do it again.
One would think it impossible that a seemingly boring hobby like bird watching could be turned into an engaging movie, but director David Frankel accomplishes the impossible. The film is not only charming, it’s funny and even a little exciting. The actors are all proven comedians, but here they must supply a subtler form of humour that complements the subdued act of birding. John Cleese’s narration is an added source of enjoyment as he provides facts of nature and guides the viewer through the intricacies of the activity.
The movie features a selection of the more than 500 birds they catalogue on the way to their big years, including some breathtaking images of rare animals from all over North America. However, it never crosses the line to educational program as the bird facts are entwined in the narrative.
Spanning a year, the three men must face a work-life crisis, a mid-life crisis and a no-life crisis in their pursuit of the record. For Stu and Brad, this is their first attempt at the title and Martin and Black bring a naivety to their characters that demonstrate their novelty. Conversely, Bostick is a veteran and willing to do whatever it takes to climb to the top again. Wilson fittingly portrays the smiling miscreant as he ruffles old enemies and makes a few new ones.
There is a surprising bit of drama built in to The Big Year
, considering its subject matter. In addition, the competitiveness between bird watchers as they race against each other to expand their lists and get a glimpse of rare species before they leave their resting spots is unexpected. Their need to out bird each other results in betrayal, trickery and races against the clock that maintain a spirited pace throughout the picture.
Director: David Frankel
Starring: Owen Wilson
, Jack Black
and Steve Martin
Special features include:
an extended version of the film; 12 deleted scenes; “The Big Migration” featurette; and gag reel. (Fox Home Entertainment)
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