The Big Year (2011)

“Everyone is searching for something.” Audiences failed to flock to theaters (no pun intended!) to watch this very low-key but entertaining comedy about birdwatching (actually the correct term is “birding” if you must know), even though the stellar cast featured Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. A notorious box office flop that received mixed reviews, the offbeat film, which was directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), follows three obsessed birders from radically different backgrounds who partake in an informal competition to claim the title of “Best Birder in the World” by spotting the most species in a single calendar year. Of course each of these guys has their own unique problems on the homefront: Martin portrays burnt-out executive “Stu Preissler,” while Black is lonely, divorced computer programmer “Brad Harris” and Wilson is legendary birder “Kenny Bostick,” the ruthless, selfish roofing contractor who is willing to sacrifice his marriage for the cause. The excellent supporting cast includes Rashida Jones, Anjelica Huston (as crusty boat captain “Annie Auklet”), Rosamund Pike, JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest and Tim Blake Nelson. In addition, John Cleese serves as the narrator in the opening scene who explains what the hell the Big Year competition is all about. One of my favorite scenes is when the birders travel all the way to the remote island of Attu, the Westernmost Aleutian island, where they have to deal with rather rustic conditions to say the least. The film was loosely based on Mark Obmascik’s bestselling 2004 book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession. Certainly not the type of movie that’s going to appeal to everyone (for instance The Guardian called it a “limp, putatively feelgood comedy”), The Big Year actually gets better with repeated viewings in my humble opinion. In 1998, legendary birder Sandy Komito set the Big Year record by spotting 745 species (a record that has stood ever since). The Bostick character in The Big Year was reportedly “inspired” by Komito.

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