At the Movies: The Big Year

It’s ’80s remake week at the movies, but I had no desire to sit through a new version of”Footloose” and when I realized “The Thing” wasn’t about Ben Grimm I decided to pass on it too. So instead I went with the movie that wasn’t a remake.

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“The Big Year” is a movie about bird watching — excuse me — birding. It’s a lightweight, charming little comedy with some dramatic overtones. It’s the weakest movie I’ve seen this fall but it’s not bad.

Based on a book by Mark Obmascik, “The Big Year” chronicles a year in the life of three dedicated birders — Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) and Brad Harris (Jack Black). All are taking part in a competition called “The Big Year,” in which competitors travel the country to see who can spot the most different species of birds within a 12-month timeframe. It’s not exactly the Tour de France.

Kenny is the reining champion of The Big Year and is determined to hold onto the title, even if it breaks up his marriage. Stu is a wealthy businessman who’s ready to retire and spend a year chasing his dream, but his company may fall apart without him. Brad is directionless in life aside from his desire to take part in the competition, despite his lack of money and the disapproval of his father (Brian Dennehy).

As you can imagine, the film bounces about among these three men and their respective dramas, bringing them together at various locations as they search for one elusive bird after another. Stu and Brad become friends and pool their efforts to defeat Kenny, but Kenny is an old pro who knows all the tricks.

“The Big Year” features some nice location scenes, a few nifty bird moments, and serviceable performances by the cast. I liked that none of the characters were made out to be some cartoon villain. Kenny was certainly the least sympathetic but he wasn’t outright evil.

The film probably won’t win many awards, except maybe in the birding community. As comedies go, it lacks any big laughs. I did learn a lot about birding, not that I was that interested in the subject.

Did it work for me? I wouldn’t pay full price to see it in a theater, but it’s a nice little movie that might be worth a matinée or cheap video rental.  

 

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