“The Big Year” is director David Frankel’s (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley and Me”) latest feature about three men and their unusual obsession: bird watching. Called “birding” by those who partake in the odd hobby, the goal is to see as many different species of birds as you possibly can. Some birders only keep track of their life-total, but for the die-hards, doing a “Big Year” is the only way to do it. The Big Year competition begins every January 1st and goes year-round, a full 365 days. The birder who is able to spot the greatest number of different bird species in one year’s time wins. The prize is bragging rights and notoriety amongst the birding community, and that’s about it.
Written by: Howard Franklin (screenplay), Mark Obmascik (book)
Starring: Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin
Enter Brad Harris (Black), an avid birder who dreams of doing a Big Year but suffers the misfortunes of a mid-life crisis. Harris works a dead-end job, was recently divorced, and lives at home with his parents. As a new year begins, Harris decides to escape his troubles by spending everything he has to finally embark on a Big Year.
While travelling around the country, Brad meets fellow birders Kenny Bostick (Wilson) and Stu Preissler (Martin). Bostick is considered the world’s greatest birder, who holds the all-time record of spotting 732 birds during last year’s Big Year. Kenny is a cut-throat competitor who will do anything to ensure his position as number one. Stu is a soon-to-be retiree, trying to escape the grasp of his demanding career and finally embark on his Big Year. As the year goes on, the competition heats up and all three men make sacrifices that may cost them more than they expect.
“The Big Year,” following in the footsteps of Frankel’s 2008 “Marley and Me,” is a feel-good family movie with heart. Though the comedy can fall short at times (a little too much Jack-Black-falling-down physical comedy), what really shines through is the underlying message that is just as valuable to kids as it is to adults. “The Big Year” teaches a lesson of putting the most important things in life – family and friends – first, no matter what.
What’s fun and interesting about this movie is how it takes us into a world so few of us even knew existed. The film is based on Mark Obmascik’s non-fiction book by the same name, which tells the tale of 1998’s top three contenders in the American Big Year competition. It’s fair to have doubts about how entertaining a movie about bird watching could be, but the engaging characters and spirit of competition keep this one ticking. As the months fly by and the characters near the finish line, it’s exciting to watch them scramble to beat the 732 bird record as well as one another. It becomes easy to get sucked into the Big Year competition as if you were a birder yourself.
Essentially, “The Big Year” is a simple and upbeat family flick that’s fun and entertaining and contains a positive message at it’s core. There’s nothing earth-shattering about this movie, but that’s okay. Not every good film has to be a laugh riot or an Oscar-worthy drama – there’s plenty of value in something that’s right in between. As long as you know what you’re going to get with “The Big Year,” it’s worth a gander.