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Movie Review: The Big Year

October 14, 2011

The Big Year – A 20th Century Fox Release

Release Date: October 14th, 2011

Rated PG for some mild language

Running time: 100 minutes

David Frankel (dir.)

Howard Franklin (screenplay)

Based on the book by Mark Obmascik

Theodore Shapiro (music)

Jack Black as Brad Harris

Steve Martin as Stu Preissler

Owen Wilson as Kenny Bostick

Rosamund Pike as Jessica

JoBeth Williams as Edith

Rashida Jones as Ellie

Dianne Wiest as Brenda

Brian Dennehy as Raymond

Anjelica Huston as Annie Auklet

Tim Blake Nelson as Fuchs

©20th Century Fox.  All Rights Reserved.

Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), Brad Harris (Jack Black) and Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) in The Big Year.

Our reviews below:


The Big Year Review By John C.

*** (out of 4)

A light comedy about bird watching might not sound like the making of an entertaining film, but The Big Year kept a smile on my face throughout the entire running time.  Loosely based on a true story, this is a sweet comedy about likeable characters that is written with a genuine and believable touch.

All of his life, Brad Harris (Jack Black) has dreamed of doing a big year.  Recognized by the American Birding Association, the annual event sees hundreds of birders trying to spot and catalogue as many birds as they can across North America over the span of 365 days.  On his journey, Brad meets Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), a man close to retirement who is also realizing his dream of doing a big year.  The only thing standing in their way is Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), a world champion who plans to beat his own world record of spotting 732 birds.

I’ve watched enough movies to know that Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black are all likeable actors.  In The Big Year, they all play well off of each other and have a great on-screen chemistry.  We enjoy watching these actors and their characters’ love for wearing binoculars and watching birds is contagious to the audience.  Director David Frankel’s last movie was the excellent Marley and Me, which was another very good film about how the relationships of people can be changed by the animals that come in and out of their lives.

I saw The Big Year at a press screening with several birders in the audience.  As we piled out of the screening, they all seemed impressed with the way that the movie was never patronizing the characters in the story.  This is an enjoyable film.  It has a charming script that thankfully doesn’t rely on slapstick humour and three likable actors who all turn in good performances.  The Big Year is a comedy with a good heart and a light tone that keeps us interested in the journey.


The Big Year Review by Erin V.  

*** (our of 4)

For those who don’t know, a ‘big year’ means someone who is vying to spot the most different kinds of birds in North America.  Based on the book by Mark Obmascik, the movie The Big Year stars Jack Black as Brad, a guy who decides to try to have a ‘big year’ and break the record currently held by one Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) who counted 732 different species in the previous year – a really big year for him.  Also trying to break Bostick’s record is Stu (Steve Martin), who finally has retired from the big CEO life and is going to complete his life’s dream of having a big year.

The film is very low key, and has a sweet side to it.  Birders will love watching all of the different species and identify with the character’s love of birds.  As I heard one individual say as I left the theatre, they were glad that the film didn’t make fun of the characters.  And it doesn’t – yes, this is a comedy, but we root for the various characters, believe them, and understand how important this is for them.  The scenery is beautiful in the film, and although it is a quiet film, it moves along at a fairly good pace.  There is nothing offensive in the film, and is a film that an older audience would probably quite enjoy.


The Big Year Review by Nicole

***1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the birding novel The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession, this charming film follows three birders in competition to see the most North American birds in one year.  Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) is one obsessed birder.  He holds the Big Year birding competition record of 732 species spotted in one year.  Two amateur birders, a man nearing retirement, Stu (Steve Martin) and a younger working man named Brad (Jack Black) decide to beat Bostick by doing their own Big Years, without telling each other.

The Big Year will appeal to nature lovers.  It has beautiful scenery and hundreds of gorgeous birds.  But what I also found interesting was the fine line between hobby, special interest and addiction.  When people lose jobs and ignore their families in order to pursue their passion, then that crosses the line into addiction.  However, when a balance is reached and passions are shared with others, this can actually bring families closer together and introduce individuals to other people.  The Big Year depicts this contrast beautifully.

All of the actors play their roles in believable ways and the film captures just the right balance between comedy and light drama.  The Big Year is a must see for naturalists and birders.  I really enjoyed this film and the audience of conservationists that I saw it with also seemed to love it.


The Big Year Review by Maureen

*** (out of 4)

The saying goes ‘birds of a feather flock together.’  Bird lovers are going to be flocking to see The Big Year, a totally charming comedy about birders and their big competition known as a big year.  Based on the true life book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession, the movie follows three dedicated birders – Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) and Brad Harris (Jack Black) as they each attempt to break North American records and win the big year competition.

Narrated by Brad Harris the story follows the three men over the course of a full year as they go on bird watching missions to count and document the highest number of different bird species sightings.  Whoever can document the highest number of different bird species wins.  The current champion is Kenny Bostick, a young entrepreneur driven to keep his number one title even if it means neglecting his lovely wife, Jessica (Rosamund Pike) and her fertility treatments.  Retiring business man Stu Preissler is trying to jump-start his retirement by following his life-long bird watching passion.  Thirty-six year old Brad, who is back living with his parents decides his life needs a new direction and maybe following his heart and his love of birds will change his life.

Throughout The Big Year we watch Kenny, Brad and Stu as they go from their everyday lives to birdwatching trips and back again.  It’s interesting to watch how much each of them are willing to give up and let go to achieve their goals.  The lines between special interest, passion and obsession are frequently crossed and ultimately the question is what really constitutes a win.

The scenery and photos of birds are wonderful to see.  Avid birders will delight in recognizing familiar species.  Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson are all charmingly believable as the three main competitors.  There’s a really nice comedic tone that never delves into slapstick.  Every scene feels real and sincere.  The Big Year is quite simply a wholesome and charming movie that nature lovers, particularly birders, of all ages will enjoy.


The Big Year Review by Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

The Big Year is a marathon event for competitive American birders out to observe the most species in a calendar year. Averaging over two per day, the 2003 record of Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), has not been beaten. Brad (Jack Black), gifted in recognizing thousands of bird calls, is up for the challenge, despite a limited budget and full-time IT job. Stu (Steve Martin) is a retiring executive with the Big Year on his bucket list. Following migration patterns and chasing favourable weather conditions take the birders all over North America from the Florida Everglades to the outermost Aleutian island of Attu. Along with the birds we meet some interesting characters. Annie Auklet (Anjelica Huston) runs a west coast ecotour boat. Crane (Jim Parsons) writes a birding blog. Fuchs (Tim Blake Neslon) is working with Bostick. Ellie (Rashida Jones) is a fellow birder that Brad would like to know better.

Back home, Kenny’s current wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike), jealous of Kenny’s bird obsession, is going through fertility treatments hoping Kenny will be there when it counts. Brad, recently divorced from a wife who did not share his passion for birding, has his mother (Dianne Wiest) arranging and supporting his trips, his father (Brian Dennehy) not so much. With a first grandchild on the way, Stu’s wife Edith (JoBeth Williams) is completely supportive of his retirement and Big Year quest but his former colleagues (Kevin Pollack and Joel McHale) keep trying to call him back from retirement.

The Big Year provides a great frame for character development as we follow the birders through twelve months of beautiful scenery (actually mostly in Canada) and their lives intertwine with each other and those they have left behind. The film moves at a good pace over its 100 minutes, with mild suspense kept up by running totals for the competitors. However, with a script that allows the fine cast to all work to their strengths in both funny and touching scenes, the final score is incidental to the impact the Big Year has on the lives of the birders and those around them.


Consensus: With likeable performances from Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson at its heart, The Big Year is a very charming and always enjoyable film that keeps a light comedic tone throughout.  ***1/4 (out of 4)

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