Written by Parker Flickinger
Have you heard of the movie The Big Year, but thought it sounded too silly to watch? Or have you never heard of this lesser-known comedy about birdwatching? I actually missed this film when it arrived in theaters back in 2011, and only watched it when it was shared by a birder friend of mine. If you are a birdwatcher, give The Big Year a chance. You may find the film a fun adventure, or at least it will give you some chuckles.
The film is loosely based on true accounts, chronicled by Mark Obmascik in his novel, The Big Year: a Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession. In 1998, three men from diverse backgrounds undertook a grand adventure going on a “Big Year”, an ambitious and expensive attempt to log the most bird species within North America in a single calendar year.
According to an interview with the film's director David Frankel, when he was pitched the idea of a comedy film about competitive bird watching, Frankel's thoughts were “OW! And I mean Ow, like I just broke my finger or that was my foot,” (Holmes, 2011). All initial aversions aside, the movie made it into production, then into theaters.
The Big Year is definitely a comedy that lives up to its description “loosely based”. Its three comedian stars, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, are all playing their typical roles. Wilson is the vain, smooth-talking jerk, Black is the lazy, childish underdog, and Martin is the kind-hearted bumbler. All these characters have their own predictable character arcs, such as a love interest, being a work-aholic or the ever popular mid-life crisis. But thanks to excellent comedy acting, these somewhat goofy caricatures never become truly obnoxious.
The film of course exaggerates birders' obsessions and the challenges of birdwatching, throwing in silly slapstick. However, in spite of some inevitable scientific inaccuracies, the film lovingly portrays why people are captivated by birds. It depicts formal birdwatching and species listing in a manner easily accessible and enjoyable to a general audience.
The Big Year is escapist fun and made me laugh hard at times. If you want a simple, funny, feel-good movie, The Big Year is your ticket. Its content and humor make it better for adults or families with older children. If you are looking for a movie with scientific accuracy featuring birds, I recommend the French documentary Winged Migration or one of the insightful ornithology documentaries streaming on PBS and the BBC, such as The Secret Life of Birds.
As actor Jack Black said in interview, “I would not be surprised if there's more people involved in a big year competition after this movie comes out,” (Yarnold, 2011). In my own case, Jack is correct. This film helped inspire me to start keeping a life-list and become an eBird contributor. I can see the value for this film inspiring people to explore the birdwatching hobby, as I have successfully used The Big Year to connect with beginner birdwatchers. I'm glad the motion picture The Big Year was created, and I hope to continue using it to inspire the public.
*PS- Be sure to stick around while the credits roll, an impressive slide show of named bird photographs flash by.
Image copyright 20th Century Fox, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.