“The movie’s about a competition, but the competition is really a metaphor for trying to achieve great ambition. It’s about the pursuit of excellence, and it’s about three guys who are just trying to get outside of their normal, everyday existence and achieve something they’ve always dreamed of…”
Director David Frankel (Marley & Me) excerpt from an interview on BirdingBlogs.com
What are these three guys played by Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson trying to achieve? A Big Year! A term in Birding (not to be called bird watching) for an entire year spent traveling around the country, up hills, down rivers, over streams, in the tundra, peering between branches and sailing the oceans in search of bird species. The person who spots the largest variety of birds within that year is called “The Best Birder”. That’s it – no prize money, no endorsements, not even an ugly green jacket like the one Tiger Woods has gotten to sport 4 times; nope, just the title, and awe from others within the birding community.
Yet supposedly this ornithological obsession can drive a person to put their life on hold for a year, clear out their savings, leave jobs, family, jump on planes, trains and automobiles in search of a pink footed booby. And thus the movie takes us into the passion of this sport/hobby through three enthusiasts –
Brad Harris (Black) a bit of a loser, divorced, living at home again with his parents (Diane Wiest and Brian Dennehy); his mom supports his passion, but his dad thinks the whole thing’s for the birds and wants Brad to straighten up and fly right.
Stu Preissler (Martin) a very successful CEO who’s been wanting to retire to do a “Big Year”, but obligation and an almost equal passion to his company has always taken precedence. Stu’s bird quest gets constant interruptions from his left and right hand VP’s, a comic fric and frac (Kevin Pollak and Joel McHale) hounding him to handle just one more business deal.
Kenny Bostick (Wilson) holds the title of Best Birder, his “Big Year” totaling 732 birds, a score no one has yet been able to match or beat and Kenny aims to keep it that way, even if it means putting off starting a family with his wife who is currently going through fertility treatments in order to conceive as soon as possible, but absent husband = no stork.
The Big Year is light-hearted, but hardly a comedy. Screenwriter Howard Franklin (based on Mark Obmascik’s book) did not write this movie for laughs, using a backdrop of the pursuit of birding; instead, it’s almost a National Geographic look at the sport, with characters who happen to be comedic actors. As I was watching the film, I kept thinking, my Mom would enjoy this movie. It is the perfect movie to watch in mixed company, nothing offensive, very PG.
Leaving the theater and thinking about how crazy competitive people can be, I ran into a fellow film blogger, Brian from Flieder on Film, and although our exchange was very pleasant, I couldn’t help but think, perhaps I shouldn’t really be too forthcoming with my thoughts on the film, what if he uses it (which, of course he wouldn’t). Then discussing the upcoming Philadelphia Film Festival, I started feeling a sense of panic when he said he’d already chosen 20 films to see, and that was just a start. In my mind’s eye, I could see the counter icon from the film, which would flash up in front of each guy to keep us informed of their current birding score. Will my counter register 20 films? I don’t get out of work till 5:30pm and a lot of the films start at 5, should I take time off? Should I quit my job? Which goes to show, even if you can’t relate to the subject of The Big Year, you’re bound to relate to the competitive nature of man (and woman).
The Big Year opens today in Philadelphia-area theaters.