We saw “The Big Year” when it first came out, and bought the DVD when it was available. With three actors like that — Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson — it was bound to be an enjoyable movie, even if it was about something I knew nothing about: Birding. Add in excellent performances by Rosamund Pike, Brian Dennehy, Anjelica Huston, Dianne West, Kevin Pollak, and JoBeth Williams, and you’ve got a cast that doesn’t go wrong.
What is a Big Year, you ask? John Cleese’s voice does an entertaining quick explanation. In the late 1800’s, sportsmen in the United States celebrated Christmas by killing as many birds as they could in one day. The president of the Audubon Society suggested they should count birds instead, and eventually this led to the competition of the Big Year: the most bird species counted in the United States and Canada by one person in one calendar year.
Of course, such an endeavor has costs. Time off is essential, to take advantage of weather and migration patterns. Having enough money is a BIG factor, for all the travel. But if your significant other is not a birder, or has other goals in mind, those relationships can be the biggest cost of all. Steve Martin plays a retiring CEO, Jack Black plays a computer programmer whose greatest passion is birds, and Owen Wilson plays a contractor who holds the current record for most birds counted . . . and his wife wants a baby.
The scenery is beautiful, the birds are fascinating, but it is the interplay of relationships that makes this movie. If you watch the DVD, I highly recommend the extended version of the movie. John Cleese does the narration, and it has an additional star: the female ruby throated hummingbird. On a scale from 1 to 5, I give this movie a 4.
P.S. Have just begun reading the book the movie is based on: “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession,” by Mark Obmascik (2004). Obmascik is a birder, but wasn’t always, so he makes things understandable and entertaining. And yes, this really happened.