Every now and then filmmakers find themselves in a dilemma about marketing their films, especially those with an arcane subject. What they try to do is sell what they think the general public wants to see, even though it’s not the film they made. The previews for The Big Year seem to be selling a lame, pratfall-filled comedy of manly competition. One scene from the preview is not even in the movie.
The arcane subject of TBY is bird watching. The three stars of TBY are Jack Black as a 36-year-old hard working but obsessed birder (and the film’s narrator). Steve Martin plays the older birder trying to retire from his mega billion dollar company so he can spend more time looking through binoculars. Owen Wilson plays the World Champion Birder with a one-year record of 733 sightings. I am pretty sure I’ve seen at least four, but wouldn’t swear to it. I know that most of them can fly and many are very tasty. SM and JB decide they want to have a Big Year and break the OW record. He decides not to let them.
Traveling is a must for Birders and they do. While filmed in Atlanta, Miami and Canada, the location subtitles indicate a much wider range of locales. The guys will do anything to spot a new species. Skipping meals, ignoring family and even passing up a Super Bowl is not beyond their desire to spot the most birds.
Adding to the story are vet actors Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, JoBeth Williams and Anjelica Huston. Theodore Shapiro adds a big score, which is the right touch of adventure to the big outdoors on display.
While the previews misrepresent this film in an effort to sell it to us, what they really need is word of mouth. I, for one, am here to open mine and tell you this is a neat film. The humor is appropriately low key for the true message about obsession, sacrifice, friendship and relationships. If you want to be a champion birder, you’ll learn from the films three main characters what they were willing to give up and what they learn from their Big Year. I learned a lot about birds. My next visit to KFC will be much different than my last one. The main thing this film has is great performances by the lead actors. By films end I really liked and admired all of them.
Back in 2000 I went to a film with low expectations but it turned out to be a big surprise. Minnie Driver starred in the Bonnie Hunt movie Return to Me. It was beautifully written, funny and wonderfully human. The Big Year is the same experience except with feathers.
Rated 3.5 out of 4.0 Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers. Maybe they had Blue Bellies. Maybe not. They flew away in a big hurry.