- Running time:
- 100 minutes
- Steve Martin -
- Stu Preissler
- Jack Black -
- Brad Harris
- Owen Wilson -
- Kenny Bostick
- Brian Dennehy -
- Anjelica Huston -
- Annie Auklet
Three bird enthusiasts of varying ages and life trajectories—wealthy senior Stu (Steve Martin), middle-aged lovable loser Brad (Jack Black) and successful contractor Kenny (Owen Wilson)—set off on individual birdwatching quests in an attempt to take home the top prize in the annual “big year” bird watching competition. There’s no purse, no trophy—just a year’s worth of bragging rights and a coveted write-up in a national birdwatching magazine. For each man, the protracted and isolative nature of the competition puts an ever-increasing strain on their personal and professional lives. Just how much are these avid birdwatchers willing to sacrifice to have their own “big year”?
The buzz: Yes, competitive birdwatching is real. The “big year,” in birder terms, is an annual competition to determine which birdwatcher can spot the greatest number of bird species in North America within a calendar year. The contest is so folksy and informal, the counts are tallied and submitted by the contestants themselves, an old-fashioned practice which relies almost entirely on the honor system. “The Big Year” was directed by David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley & Me”), with a story based on the book “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession” by environmental journalist Mark Obmascik.
The verdict: What’s even more boring than birdwatching? Watching someone else birdwatching. What’s even more boring than watching someone else birdwatching? Watching someone else birdwatching for an entire calendar year. Multiply that by three, and you’ll start to get a sense of what makes “The Big Year” so infuriating. Some of the film’s picturesque locations, from Whistler, British Columbia to Joshua Tree in California, and several of the non-CGI bird shots, are pleasing to the eye, yet too often the film seems so gosh darn bored with its own subject matter that it resorts to distracting visual cues (an annoying bird-o-meter that pops up on occasion to let the audience know the characters' total number of spotted birds) and cutesy song selections (“I Like Birds” by Eels, an instrumental cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”) to entertain. (The always endearing Rashida Jones is criminally underutilized along the way as Carol, Brad's bird-spottin’ love interest.) Ultimately, “The Big Year” becomes one long birdwatching montage with not enough stakes-raising to differentiate the time we see the gang bird-spotting in January from the time we see the gang bird-spotting in December. Perhaps most problematic: three-quarters of the way through, it’s still not entirely clear who we should be rooting for, or why: Jack Black, the down-on-his-luck lovable loser; Steve Martin, the loving husband who’s giving up a cushy job for one last shot at the brass ring; or Owen Wilson, the father-to-be and current champ, a man who has given up everything to pursue his lifelong passion? All three?
Did you know? The real life reigning big year record holder is Sandy Komito, who spotted 745 species in 1998, though John Vanderpoel is currently completing a big year and has already amassed 720 species as of October 1, 2011. Excited?
Follow Metromix's Amir Kenan on Twitter: @amirkenan
Movie theaters and showtimes for The Big Year in Louisville.
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