The Big Year

For many people, birding (not "bird-watching!") is more than just a hobby; in many instances, it's an obsession. This sweet, low-key film looks at three birders, each vying for the title of "Champ." There is an annual contest to honor the individual who has spotted the most species in a year; and to those who compete, that total represents the acme of birding.

This gentle little film has much to recommend it, namely great scenery and interesting locales, from Attu Island, Alaska, to Atlanta, Georgia, we scoot all over the country, pretending we are in Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Maine, etc., etc., etc. Better than that, we see and hear about a marvelous assortment of birds: from the Golden Plover, the king of migratory birds; to the Great Snowy Owl, elusive and majestic.

One of our characters can identify bird calls, so we hear many of those, too, and the final credits share screen space with an amazing stream of photos, each bird group is identified. I found it interesting to see how well-established birding destinations are geared for an annual influx of singularly focused individuals, binoculars in hand, eagerly logging each sighting.

Here is a partial cast of the birders:
  • Steve Martin ("It's Complicated") is a wealthy businessman, trying to retire so he has more time to devote to his hobby.
  • Owen Wilson ("Midnight in Paris") is the top birder, the guy everyone wants to beat. He is obsessed with retaining his title, to the detriment of a personal life.
  • Jack Black ("Bernie"), less annoying than usual, plays a cash- strapped wannabe champ, trying to cope with money problems, keep his job, and challenge the top guy.
  • Rashida Jones ("Our Idiot Brother") is another birder who under- stands her fellow hobbyists' compulsions.
These are a few of the supporting cast members:
  • JoBeth Williams (LOTS of TV since "American Dreamer") is Steve Martin's wife, patient, understanding and happy to support his interests.
  • Rosamond Pike ("Barney's Version") is Wilson's third wife, determined to have a child and break through his passion for birds.
  • Dianne Wiest ("Rabbit Hole") is Jack Black's mother, doubling as his travel agent and his bank when his finances get rocky.
  • Brian Dennehy ("The Next Three Days") is Black's father, bewildered by his son's passionate enthusiasm for birds.
  • Anjelica Houston ("50/50") steals the show again, this time as the proprietor of a tour boat in Alaska, who doesn't like Wilson's character very much.
This story hinges on friendship, honor, loyalty, familial love, aging, and setting priorities. No profanity, no sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no blowie uppie stuff or vehicular mayhem. Just some fairly nice people for whom we come to care, plus that terrific scenery and those wonderful birds, which are worth the price of admission. No wonder it's rated PG!

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Here is a link to a preview:
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