The Big Year (2011)

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Admit it: the idea of watching a movie about bird watchers (or birders, as they call themselves) doesn’t sound as appealing as watching a movie about robotic aliens or a weekend in Vegas. Yet, The Big Year made me give a damn about the different species of birds, the character’s determination to spot the most birds, and it made me laugh. A lot. Without using any kind of cliches, The Big Year also manages to teach some lessons and show us some truths along the way.

Starring Steve Martin (as Stu Preissler), Jack Black (as Brad Harris), and Owen Wilson (as Kenny Bostick), the story concerns three individuals who compete in the Big Year, a competition among birders where the goal is to spot as many birds in a single year as possible. Throughout the film, we see all three characters spot so many different species of birds, you can tell the film makers did their homework. Many of the shots of the birds are great while a few are actually CG, but hey, I can forgive’em. The characters keep the story mainly interesting with their struggles and personalities. Kenny Bostick (Wilson) is the best birder in the world, having spotted a record 732 birds in 2003; he plans to keep (or beat) his record, even if it gets in the way of his family life. Brad Harris (Black) is a divorced 36 year old who’s always wanted to compete in the Big Year and is able to recognize any bird by its sound. Stu Preissler (Martin) is a million/billionaire who owns his own huge company in New York City and finally decides, after so many years, to compete in the Big Year, having his family’s complete support. As the film progresses, we get to see how these three characters get their spotting done, what their families think of the year long ordeal, and what eventually happens once the New Year comes around again and ends the Big Year.

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Shot in anamorphic with Panavision cameras, the film doesn’t always use its widescreen to show the audience more of things. Mainly, the widescreen is used to A) show the audience the surrounding areas that the birders visit (which include too many locations to recall) and B) to have space to fill up the screen with text, writing, and tally’s. Either way, the widescreen is fitting. The story it self not only deals with the people spotting birds, but what consequences and rewards might come out of it. The film has a very quirky start and eventually goes into “realistic” territory, but for me, its ending really brought the whole thing together (like it should). The film eventually shows us what obsession can do to us if we truly let it rule our lives. It also shows us that through our obsessions or interests we can meet others who relate or understand. Unlike many stories of this sort, it doesn’t stick to one side but shows us the different types of people who participate in the sport, their different experiences, the price some pay to be the best at it, and the sacrifices people make to pursue their passions.

The Big Year may not be a great movie, but it comes out being charming and very sweet. The fact that it’s rated PG also goes to show that you don’t need to be rated mature to be mature. The Big Year has plenty of laughs, sentimental moments, characters you’ll enjoy seeing, and while it isn’t perfect, it ends up proving that it has more in store for the audience then it originally let on. Don’t let the idea of watching the journey of a few bird watchers turn you off; this is a really good movie with true lessons and great laughs. See it before it disappears into obscurity, like a bird that is only seen by a lucky few.

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