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Vol. LXV, No. 42
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, NO IT’S A PINK-FOOTED GOOSE: The three rivals for the winner of the 1998 tournament to spot the most species of birds in North America, Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson, left), Stu Preissler (Steve Martin, center), and Brad Harris (Jack Black) have spotted another rare bird in their spirited contest to win the coveted tournament crown.

The Big Year: Comedy Depicts 1998 North American Bird Watching Contest

Kam Williams

After getting a divorce and dropping out of graduate school, Brad Harris (Jack Black) is unemployed and has moved back in with his parents (Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest). Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) is a roofer whose spouse (Rosamund Pike) has had trouble conceiving and is impatient to have a baby. Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is a retired CEO whose business partners have been begging him to come back to the company.

Their paths probably would never have crossed had each of them not been an avid bird watcher. In 1998, all three agreed to enter an annual tournament in which participants compete to spot the most bird species in North America over the course of a calendar year.

Loosely based on Mark Obmascik’s best-seller of the same name, The Big Year is a comedy which recounts the threesome’s spirited contest for the coveted crown while simultaneously highlighting the toll the time consuming endeavor takes on each of their personal lives. After all, participating in the contest involves being away from home for long stretches at a time.

Directed by Oscar winner David Frankel (Dear Diary), The Big Year is just funny enough to warrant this critic’s stamp of approval, even if the awkward puns, silly sight gags, and pithy dialogue seem a tad forced for a cast with so many seasoned comics. In this critic’s opinion, the choice of either Steve Martin or Owen Wilson as narrator, instead of Jack Black, would have improved the movie. Either one of their droll senses of humor would have been better suited to the story’s subtle brand of humor.

Another minor flaw is the script’s lack of tension about the outcome of the contest, which is on the honor system and allows the entrants to keep their bird counts confidential. As a result, the audience doesn’t care whether the three heroes will exhibit a sense of family responsibility and return from the road when duty calls, such as when Brad’s father suffers a heart attack, or Stu becomes a grandfather for the first time, or Kenny’s wife calls from a fertility clinic.

However, The Big Year does present a captivating display of dozens of rare winged birds, such as the Black-footed Albatross, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, and the Pink-footed Goose, to name a few, in their natural habitats. The movie is an ornithological delight for birders!

Very Good (HH). Rated PG for profanity and some sensuality. Running time: 100 minutes. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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