The Big Year

Fowl and Lovin' It


13 October 2011| No Comments on The Big Year     by Sean Chavel


Grandiose silliness but surely a feel-good delight. The Big Year stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black as three world class birdwatchers / nincompoops who compete to record sight of as many different species of bird in one calendar year. This means abandoning their jobs and touring as many National Parks and nature preserves in North America as the dollar can possibly stretch. That is actually not a big deal to Stuart Preissler (Steve Martin) or Kenny Bostick because they come from exorbitant wealth. But travelling economy and eating light is a big deal to Brad Harris (Jack Black) who borrows off his parent’s credit card limits. This is what you would call a poignant comedy, with recognizable human foibles and all that, but what I like is that the movie doesn’t go too hard out of its way to manufacture phony obstacles. Actually, just as the movie’s later scenes start to feel (arghh, no!) sanctimonious, it turns around with irreverent surprises instead all the while keeping an amiable mood.

Abandoning conventional story arcs, the movie is a series of bouncy episodes and demonstrations of the male competitive obsession as well as hobbyist faux pas. Of the three, Wilson plays the biggest egomaniac as Kenny Bostick, who for several years has held the world record for bird sights in a year – 732. He is out to break his own record, but during the first couple of months he has reoccurring run-ins with Stu and Brad. A friendlier duo, Stu and Brad sort of team up – “A Big Year” is part fable on friendship made out of unexpected circumstances. But it is not in Bostick’s self-reliant nature to team up with anybody.

Kenny is the most delusional of the three – he wants to have it all and shares none. He has the most beautiful wife at home played by Rosamund Pike (“Die Another Day”), and anybody that has ever loved elegant beauty would have to wonder why a guy like Kenny would desert her for a year. She’s trying to have a child on her own in his absence, and of course, is remodeling their house.

The big businessman Stu is apologetic to his wife at home played by JoBeth Williams (you forget she’s in the movie a day later). This wife knows that Stu is getting up there in age and this could be his last chance to become “a champion birder.” But for Brad, he’s a mid-thirties divorcee taking derision at home by the parents he lives with (Dianne Wiest as Mom, Brian Dennehy as Dad). It’s hard in this world to find a hot chick that’s as big into bird watching as he is, but this is a friendly movie, so the adorable Rashida Jones (“I Love You, Man”) is supplied. You get some PG-rated style flirting between them. Nothing heavy.

You want everybody in this movie to get what they want, but alas, there can only be one winner.

This production could have gone for cheap short cuts. But I believe that the movie is on the level. Publicity notes confirm that “The Big Year” was shot in Whistler, Vancouver; the Yukon territory; Anchorage, Alaska; the Joshua Tree; the Florida Everglades; and various National Parks depicted include Wyoming, Oregon, Washington State and Arizona. By saying “depicted” it does connote that some national parks might have represented other ones.

Director David Frankel also made the feel-good and heartwarming “Marley & Me” (2008) about the decades-worth care of the family dog. With “The Big Year” I got some reinforced life lessons in an ephemeral sense. The movie is not too deep and I’m glad it’s not, otherwise, it would have gotten bogged down. You can turn off the thinking cap and watch this trio go through some fair but mild ego-bruising of each other. The movie is light, brisk, harmless and funny. I also might have learned a few new Scrabble words while I was at it.

100 Minutes. Rated PG.


Film Cousins: “Winged Migration” (2001); “The Station Agent” (2003); “Dan in Real Life” (2007); “Marley & Me” (2008).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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