Despite a few misses, ‘The Big Year' is still enjoyable - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Arts & Life

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Despite a few misses, ‘The Big Year' is still enjoyable

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Nick Spake

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Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 2:00 pm

It's always interesting to see a movie that delves into a subculture, whether its fanboys, hippies, surfers, or heavy metal fans. "The Big Year" examines the people that makeup the subculture of Birding, a phenomenon I was virtually unfamiliar with. These are the people that observe birds as a hobby and, in some cases, turn it into a competitive sport. For the longest time I referred to these individuals as bird watchers. According to "The Big Year," they prefer the term "birder," just as Star Trek fanatics favor being called "Trekkers" as apposed to "Trekkies."

The title refers to a competition in which birders try to see and hear the largest number of species of birds in one year. The record holder for seeing the most birds is Kenny Bosticks, played by Owen Wilson. Determined to keep his record in tact, Kenny decides to have another big year, although it might cost him his marriage. Also competing is Brad Harris, a divorced bird lover who lives with his parents, played by Jack Black. Then there's Steve Martin as Stu Preissler, a recent retiree who is finally going to live out his dream of having a big year.

Director David Frankel of "The Devil Wears Prada," and cinematographer Lawrence Sher beautifully film "The Big Year." They do a wonderful job at capturing the majesty of various habitats and the birds that occupy them. At times the movie is almost as lovely to look at as a Disneynature documentary. There are a few instances where the filmmakers do cop out and utilize CGI birds rather than real ones. But for the most part, "The Big Year" is a great film to observe.

The three leads all have marvelous chemistry, especially Black and Martin, who eventually decide to team up in an effort to beat the record. As good as Black, Wilson, and Martin are here, some of the supporting players are kind of under used. I would have liked to have seen more of Rashida Jones as Black's love interest, Jim Parsons as a bird blogger, and Anjelica Huston as a ferryboat captain. While they're all good in their brief screen time, the movie could have used more of them.

"The Big Year" isn't necessarily a laugh-per-minute comedy. There are really more smiles than gut-busting moments. There is a particularly disappointing scene in which Martin races to the airport to catch a flight. Although the setup is promising, the film ignores numerous comedic opportunities and ends with no payoff. Despite a few missed chances, "The Big Year" is still a consistently enjoyable ride from start to finish. For its craft, some well-written scenes, and the undeniable chemistry between its stars, the film is just good enough for me to recommend as pure escapism. "The Big Year" also notably manages to evoke some truths about human nature and how sometimes are obsessions can distract us from the important things in life. It's hard to believe that anybody would be as obsessed with birding as some of the characters in this movie. But, I suppose there are plenty of people that take their hobbies to an unrealistic extreme.

Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, Reach him at

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