The Big Year – Blu-Ray/DVD Combo – Review
Twentieth Century Fox
by Laurie Lonsdale
An all-star cast and star-studded cameo appearances makes The Big Year seem like a big film, and with such well-known comedians as Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson, one would think the movie is a BIG comedy. But while there certainly are some chuckle-inducing comedic moments here and there throughout the story, the fact is that it’s less of a comedy and more of an insightful commentary on relationships.
Based on the book, The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession, the movie adopts the unique and unexpected premise of avid birdwatchers or ‘birders’ chasing a ‘A Big Year’, which essentially is bird enthusiasts on a mission to outshine each other by locating and documenting the most species of birds in North America. Owen Wilson, who plays Kenny Bostick, is the reining champion with over 700 birds to his credit. Steve Martin as Stu Preissler and Jack Black as Brad Harris aren’t nearly as cutthroat in their approach as Bostick, but are nevertheless on a quest to break his record. Although Preissler’s and Harris’ relationship gets off to a rocky start when they discover they’re both seeking a Big Year and thus are competing, eventually they befriend each other and team up.
Along the way, the plotline goes deeper than the surface rivalry, revealing much more about these three characters than simply their love of birds and competition. The viewer discovers that while Bostick is clever and successful in his hobby as a birder, he’s incredibly dim and unsuccessful in the ways of love, constantly putting his hobby and his own needs before that of his spouse and straining his second marriage to the point of crumbling – despite having already botched his first marriage for the same reasons. Preissler, a highly respected and well-paid business man who has reached retirement and is desirous of a Big Year title, isn’t quite as hungry for it, opting for a more well rounded life that encompasses taking time out to spend with family, including his new grandson. And Harris, who is depicted as the underdog of the group, with a job he hates, a recent divorce, and a life at home with his parents, feels as though he needs to do something noteworthy with this life and having a Big Year would be it. Nevertheless, he’s out for something more… a feeling of belonging and wholeness, considering his father (Brian Dennehy) is less than supportive. It’s his mother (Diane Wiest) who understands his need to prove himself and helps him out as best she can with travel arrangements and money.
Throughout the movie, the bird count of all three characters waxes and wanes, causing each of them their fair share of ups and downs, as well as attempts at duping each other. And in the end, although it would seem that Bostick is the big winner, given that he achieves his second consecutive Big Year, the fact is that behind the scenes he’s the loser, having sacrificed everything in order to get it. Preissler finishes more or less the way he begins, still sitting somewhere in middle ground with his bird count, his job still in tact, and with his family and their love around him. Harris, however, comes out the big winner, despite placing second in the rankings. Having been able to keep the competition in perspective, he not only proves to himself that he was just a few birds shy of indeed having his Big Year, but he ends up making a love connection (Rashida Jones) with someone who shares of his love of birds and he re-connects with his father, who after a heart attack, develops new appreciation for Harris.
While criss-crossing North America in search of birds, from Florida’s everglades to Attu Island, the largest in the group of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, the film provides the viewer with much in the way of geographical beauty, in addition to plenty of information about birds. It also illuminates the potential side effects of a hobby, be it a casual diversion or an outright obsession. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t bestow is any side-splitting belly laughs, as one would expect from such a comedic team.
The premise causes the movie to tread wearily at times, and those expecting something different considering the cast might not be so quick to embrace the dramatic examination of relationships found within the family, the work place, and with lovers – all toll making this film a box office letdown, considering the 41 million dollar budget reaped only a 7 million dollar take. Nevertheless, on Blu-Ray or DVD it makes for an entertaining way to spend 101 minutes. The Blu-ray version includes a Big Migration behind the scenes featurette, as well as many deleted scenes and a gag reel. As credits roll, on both Blu-ray and DVD, split second flashes of bird photos depict the hundreds of species it took to garner The Big Year.