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February 12, 2012 / Leslie

Weekend Birding: The Big Year

The Big Year

Genre: Comedy
In Theaters: October 14, 2011
On DVD: January 31, 2012
Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Three fanatical bird-watchers (Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black) spend an entire year competing to spot the highest number of species as El Nino sends an extraordinary variety of rare breeds flying up into the U.S., but they quickly discover that there are more important things than coming out on top of the competition. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley and Me) teams with screenwriter Howard Franklin to adapt author Mark Obmascik’s 1998 book of the same name.

Most birders only dream of being able to do a Big Year, an informal competition to see who can see or hear the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year. As frequent visitors here already know, I love birds, and last weekend I finally got to see the movie The Big Year which is now out on DVD.

We follow the adventures of three very different birders all with the same goal, to see the most species in one year. The three keep running into each other as they race to the same birding hot spots whenever a rare bird is sighted. Steve Martin plays a wealthy businessman who is trying to retire from his stressful corporate days and compete in the Big Year. Jack Black is stuck in a job he doesn’t enjoy but can’t afford to quit and scrapes together every last dime to search for birds on his vacation days and weekends. Owen Wilson is the current record holder and he is defending his title at all costs.

The characters were likeable and the birding aspect was realistic. Avid birders do run off with a moment’s notice to see a rare or unusual bird. There really are e-lists and birding hotlines to track them. And it’s true that a big storm, as we see in the movie, can blow birds off course and deposit them on the wrong continent. Changes in food supply can also drive birds to migrate to new locations. For example, this year Snowy Owls are showing up in the US, which is very unusual. (And yes, I’ve been wandering the lakefront to find them, but I digress!).

The movie was also about relationships and personal growth. New friendships are forged between competitors and family members begin to understand or accept the passion of those in the competition. We see Owen Wilson’s character destroying his relationship with his wife while Jack Black’s character builds rapport with his father, who never understood about the birds.

This was a very enjoyable, low-key comedy. No, it wasn’t roll-on-the-floor hysterical, but it was fun. Sure, there were some completely unrealistic situations but they were funny and not stupid or slapstick. And no gross or off-color humor. This was a family movie. It received mixed reviews in the theater but I think it will do much better in the home market.

If you’re in the mood for an uplifting, entertaining comedy, with beautiful scenes of nature and sounds of birds, I recommend giving this movie a try. Even non-birders will like it.

Synopsis from allmovie.



Leave a Comment
  1. Serena / Feb 12 2012 4:16 pm

    This sounds like a great movie for you! Love all the bird photos you post, btw. This movie is on my radar…I can’t wait to see it.


  2. BermudaOnion / Feb 12 2012 4:41 pm

    I really want to see this one even though I don’t do well watching movies at home. I get distracted by all the other things I should be doing.


  3. carol / Feb 15 2012 4:49 pm

    I was trying to convince my family to watch this last night, but they went with Burton’s Alice in Wonderland instead. Maybe this weekend.



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