Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Big Year

What passes for comedy in movies these days usually can fit into two categories? They’re either mean-spirited or crude and vulgar. You can find tons of crude sexual humor and a multitude of bathroom jokes in today’s media choices.

Let’s face it. Good comedy is hard to write. Maybe that’s why writers turn to the easy way out and offer up the same ole tired clichés and sexual humor. Good writers understand that audiences want more than insults and demoralizing, hate-filled remarks that are usually directed at body parts. Can we find a movie that goes a different direction ?

One film that deserves a second look is The Big Year. It was released in 2011 and, for the most part, went completely unnoticed. It made only $7 million at the box office. How is that possible with a cast that includes Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson? And here’s the thing. It was actually hilariously funny without being crude and mean-spirited. Yes, we can do better. And The Big Year is a classic example of comedy done right.

The film was based on Howard Franklin’s book, A Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession. Perhaps audiences were confused and thought this was an “Animal Planet” special. Yes, the movie is about bird watching, but, like all good movies, it’s about something more than its subject material.

I know what you’re thinking. How can bird watching be funny and interesting? Director David Frankel of “The Devil Wears Prada” fame offers an interesting story of three men who are at a crossroads in their lives. One is having a mid-life crisis, one a late-life crisis, and the other is pursuing a life-time dream.

Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostwick, who is the ultimate birder. He holds the world record for observing 732 different bird species in North America in one calendar year. Birders call it “A Big Year” where they follow the bird migrations throughout North America in an attempt to set the record for the most sightings. It’s a scramble to get from one place to another sometimes without any notice. Weather patterns create havoc and keep the birders on their toes. It amounts to a year on the road in hot pursuit of getting there first.

Kenny set the record several years ago but has caught the itch to once again reclaim his fame; however, he has serious competition from amateurs Brad Harris played by Jack Black and Stu Preissler played by Steve Martin. Brad is a thirty-something dreamer wanting to put his mark on the bird-watching community. His father, Raymond Harris, played by the veteran actor Brian Dennehy, thinks his son lacks focus and purpose in life. Their relationship is a source of conflict and frustration for Brad.

Stu, on the other hand, is a successful businessman, who has always dreamed of A Big Year. He has finally decided to retire and pursue his dream; however, his company is determined to pull him back into the corporate world that he’s trying to escape.

All three men are on a journey for the ultimate prize of being the world’s top birder. The challenges are overwhelming. And the mayhem and comedic escapades are just the beginning as these three cross paths. In reality, the film which is billed as a comedy is an allegory for the things that are truly important in life. Some of our characters are going to make choices that will enrich their lives while others will be forced to make sacrifices that could cost them dearly.

It’s a fascinating film. The Big Year was shot mostly on location, and the scenery is breathtaking. So if you love nature, you’re certainly going to appreciate The Big Year. However, you don’t have to be a bird enthusiast or a nature lover to enjoy this film. Who hasn’t wanted to take a year off and purse their dream whatever that may be? And, maybe along the way, you discover a thing or two about yourself. Perhaps, that’s the beauty of this picture. We can all in one way or another put ourselves in the position of Brad, Kenny and Stu. I think we all would like to have A Big Year.

This is a movie you may want to add to your film library. There are plenty of touching moments that will tug at your heart. I love the spirit of The Big Year. Yes it’s funny, delightful, and inspiring. In many ways, it’s an honest reflection of our hopes, dreams, and what we aspire to become as a person.

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