The Big Year
|The Big Year|
|Directed by||David Frankel|
|Produced by||Karen Rosenfelt
|Screenplay by||Howard Franklin|
|Based on||The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession
by Mark Obmascik
|Music by||Theodore Shapiro|
|Editing by||Mark Livolsi|
|Studio||20th Century Fox
Red Hour Films
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||100 minutes|
The Big Year is a 2011 comedy film starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. The Big Year was directed by David Frankel and written by Howard Franklin. It was based on the nonfiction book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession which was written by Mark Obmascik. The book followed three men on a quest for a Big Year - a competition among birders to see who can identify the most different species of birds in North America in a calendar year. The film uses the same premise with invented characters.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (October 2013)|
The film follows three amateur birders who each set out to achieve a Big Year. They are Brad Harris (Jack Black), a 36-year-old computer programmer based in Baltimore; Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), founder and CEO of a New York company bearing his name; and a roofing contractor named Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), who holds the current Big Year record of 732 birds, drives a car with the New Jersey vanity plate "732" and is described by others as "the greatest birder in the world". Though Bostick's fascination with birds is genuine, he is so competitive about birding that the other characters sometimes use his name as a kind of expletive: "Bostick!" Brad is handicapped by limited funds and a full-time job; the other two seem to have unlimited time and money to pursue the competition.
Bostick is obsessively possessive of his record. He is motivated to begin another Big Year by his worry that the El Nino storm system has created the ideal conditions for someone to top his hitherto unbreakable record. He promises his second wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike) that he'll only pursue his Big Year until he's certain that nobody else has a shot at beating 732. Jessica is concerned. This was supposed to be the year they focused on conceiving a child, and she also believes that Bostick's birding obsession is what destroyed his previous marriage.
Brad is a skilled birder who can identify nearly any species solely by sound. He hates his job maintaining the operational software of a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant. Living with his parents after a failed marriage, an aborted career at Dell, and dropping out of grad school, he is a "typical Jack Black underachiever". He hopes that doing a Big Year will give him a sense of purpose and possibly even make his father proud of him.
Stu is the founder and CEO of an enormous Manhattan-based chemical conglomerate which he built from the ground up, starting in his garage. After decades of corporate success, he is ready to retire to Colorado with his architect wife, who has designed a comfortable house with enough space and amenities to entertain their kids and future grandchildren. Though his fears of the abyss of an empty schedule led him to come back from a previous retirement, he wants to leave his company in the hands of his two lieutenants (Kevin Pollak and Joel McHale). The company is in the middle of complicated negotiations to merge with a competitor, so his two anointed successors keep calling him back to New York for important meetings; to some extent he is a "prisoner of his own success". A Big Year has been his lifelong dream and he's pursuing it with the full support of his wife.
At his parents' house over dinner, Brad reveals to his father (Brian Dennehy) that he has begun his Big Year and the travel costs necessary to undertake his dream have already been budgeted. His father objects, misreading his cash-strapped son's birding travels as an extended vacation and a way to avoid moving forward with his life. Brad is resolute, however, encouraged by his mother (Dianne Wiest).
Stu flies off to British Columbia after receiving notification of a Xantus's Hummingbird sighting in a backyard there. His former company colleagues try unsuccessfully to convince him to return to New York City. Unbeknownst to Stu, Bostick arrives at the same house in British Columbia and sees the hummingbird. Bostick again comes into contact with Stu when all three men are aboard a birding boat. Aware he may have a fellow birder on his tail, Bostick engages in antics to worsen Stu's seasickness. Brad befriends a nauseated Stu and also meets for the first time fellow birder Ellie (Rashida Jones).
Bostick's wife attempts to gain her husband's attention back on the home front, informing him she has decided to hire a rival contractor to begin work on remodeling their home. Brad is feeling the financial pressure of balancing the need for constant exotic travel with his work schedule and limited budget. Meanwhile, the merger of Stu's company continues to hit snags, causing his former lieutenants to pressure Stu to take an active role in the increasingly acrimonious negotiations.
A freak storm in the Gulf Coast creates a rare "fallout" event, driving exotic birds away from their established migratory routes and forcing them to take refuge on the one patch of land available. It's such an invaluable opportunity to spot dozens of rare, non-native species that Stu, Brad and Bostick all immediately drop what they're doing to bird the island despite the effects this will have on the merger deal, his job, and his marriage, respectively.
Hundreds of birders flock to the area, including Ellie, much to Brad's delight. After spending the day birding together, Brad and Stu dine together and bond further, sharing their own hopes and dreams with each other and forming the seeds of a close friendship. Brad discloses he is currently doing a Big Year. Stu fails to reciprocate. He's still smarting from Bostick's interference earlier in the year, and fears what would happen if too many people learned of his own pursuit and word got back to Bostick.
The negotiations for the merger of Stu's company have now collapsed completely and the only hope is a do-or-die session scheduled to take place just before Stu's birding expedition to Attu Island. When Stu begs off, his exasperated former lieutenants point out that the jobs of all of his former employees are more important than birding, and successfully shame him into agreeing to the meeting,
While birding in Coos Bay, a friend of Brad's (Jim Parsons) with a prominent birding blog happens to discover Stu's growing list and posts a picture of Stu, along with his Big Year total of 457 species to date. Feeling hurt that Stu did not tell him, Brad divulges Stu's goal to Bostick while the two are aboard a plane on their way to Attu Island. Stu was booked on the same chartered flight but narrowly missed it, held up by his successful and masterful closing of the merger deal. Stu's disappointment only worsens watching local news anchormen stating the storm created prime birding conditions on Attu. Meanwhile, a Rustic Bunting is sighted on the island by Bostick. Stu arrives days later and makes amends with Brad, wanting to remain friends. He encourages Brad in his pursuit of Ellie, who also made the trip.
When they all are back home, Ellie calls Brad to inform him a Pink-footed Goose has been spotted in Boston. Any thoughts he had of pursuing her are dashed, however, when she and her boyfriend pick him up from the train station.
Stu and Brad meet up again while awaiting a ferry to an island where a Blue-footed Booby has been spotted. They compare notes and each is pleased with the other's progress: each has spotted more than 700 species. When they encounter Bostick, Brad injudiciously reveals his number. He intended to put a scare into him but instead "woke a sleeping dog," in Stu's words. Indeed, Bostick tricks Stu and Brad into concluding that the Booby had just been spotted on the mainland. When the two realize, with some admiration, of how cleverly Bostick had manipulated them into missing the Booby, they decide to form an alliance against him and begin birding as a team. Well-heeled Stu pays for a helicopter ride to see snowcocks. Upon landing, Brad is notified that his father has suffered a heart attack; he returns home to be with him. His father comes to affectionately view his son with a newfound respect after hearing Brad explain his love for his favorite bird, the American Golden Plover, and comes to understand the significance of his Big Year attempt. He accompanies Brad into the snowy woods and helps him locate a Great Grey Owl.
All three birders are coming to understand the cost of their birding obsessions. Brad curses himself out when he realizes that he allowed his sick father to talk him into leaving him behind on the trail when he became short of breath during their pursuit of the Great Grey Owl, and rushes back to find that all is well. Stu finds that he's regretting the time he's spending away from his wife and his new grandson, born during the Big Year and named "Stu" in his honor.
Bostick races home from yet another birding trip to keep an important appointment with his wife at a fertility clinic. He is literally at the front door of the clinic when he receives a report of a sighting of a Snowy Owl, his most coveted and elusive bird. Despite the fact that his wife is waiting inside to have her eggs harvested, fertilized and implanted after undergoing months of hormone injections, he speeds back to the airport and phones in an obviously made-up excuse for his absence. His wife returns alone to their big house, and screams in frustration inside the empty nursery. When Bostick finally returns home after the (fruitless) search for the Snowy Owl, she tells him she still loves him but can't be his wife anymore.
As the year draws to a close, Stu enjoys his newborn grandson; Brad gets a phone call from Ellie saying she and her boyfriend have broken up; and Bostick dines alone in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve, still seeking a Snowy Owl.
When Stu is offered the chairmanship of 3M, the parent company that bought Preissler Chemical, he realizes that his fears of retirement are gone and he easily turns down the opportunity to become one of the world's most powerful CEOs. He hangs up on his dumbfounded lieutenants. Brad and Stu close out their Big Year together near Stu's home in Colorado by finally sighting a Norwegian species that they'd just missed spotting during the fallout. Now close friends, they congratulate each other on "a very Big Year indeed."
The Big Year results are published and Stu phones Brad with the news. Bostick is first with 755, a new record; Brad came in second; Stu was fourth. Brad opines that "he got more birds, but we got more everything," as he looks at Ellie, who has come for a weekend visit. Stu smiles, looking at his wife.
The film ends with the new couple cozily birding together on a rocky coastline, while Brad confesses that birding is no longer the biggest part of his life. Stu, contented in retirement, is hiking with his toddler grandson (already enamored by birds) in the Rockies. And Bostick is on a birding adventure in China, alone and gazing wistfully at a happy couple walking with their newborn child.
- Steve Martin as Stu Preissler
- Jack Black as Brad Harris
- Owen Wilson as Kenny Bostick
- Rashida Jones as Ellie
- Anjelica Huston as Annie Auklet
- Jim Parsons as Crane
- Rosamund Pike as Jessica Bostick
- JoBeth Williams as Edith Preissler
- Brian Dennehy as Raymond Harris
- Dianne Wiest as Brenda Harris
- Anthony Anderson as Bill Clemens
- Tim Blake Nelson as Phil
- Joel McHale as Barry Loomis
- Calum Worthy as Colin Debs
- Veena Sood as Nurse Katie
- Corbin Bernsen as Gil Gordon
- Stacey Scowley as Vicki
- Jesse Moss as Jack Lusas
- Kevin Pollak as Jim Gittelson
- Barry Shabaka Henley as Dr. Neil Kramer
- Andrew Wilson as Mike Shin
- Al Roker as New York Weatherman
- John Cleese as Historical Montage Narrator
- June Squibb as The Old Lady
- Steven Weber as Rick McIntire
The film received mixed reviews from critics. The Hollywood Reporter described it as a "genial, amusing and somewhat unfathomable" film; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called it a "gentle, light-hearted comedy" about "people trying to be the best, following their dreams and enjoying the wonder of birds". It holds a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus stating: "Though made with care and affection for its characters, The Big Year plods along, rarely reaching any comedic heights." CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was a "B-minus" on an A+ to F scale.
The film was a box office failure, despite the established stars like Martin, Black and Wilson as the leads. Based on a budget of $41 million, it took in just $7.4 million in ticket sales worldwide according to Box Office Mojo.
"Minor Swing" by Stephanie Grappelli and Jean Reinhardt, "(If I Had) A Sandwich With You" by Dan DiPrima and Alex Marlowe, "Wheel of Fortune Underscore" courtesy of Sony Pictures, "The Devil Never Sleeps" by Sam Beam, "Pitkin County Turnaround" by Steve Martin, "Let It Shine" by Jeremy Fisher, "I'll Have the Halibut" & "Away With Pie" by Dan DiPrima and Alex Marlowe, "The Dog's Decree - Concerto in C Major" by Antonio Vivaldi, "Viva la Vida" by William Champion, Christopher Martin, Guy Berryman, & Jonathan Buckland (Coldplay), "Come Fly Away by Jeremy Fisher and Jack Livesey, "Surfin' Bird" by Alfred Frazier, John Harris, Turner Wilson Jr., and Carl White, "Blackbird" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "I Like Birds" by E., "Adeste Fideles" arranged by Virginia S. Davidson, "Silent Night" performed by Bing Crosby, "This Could Be All Yours" by Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Brian Rowsenworld and Joe Pisapia, "Auld Lang Syne" arranged by Guy Lombardo 
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- The Big Year DVD, Fox 2000 Pictures
- Official website
- The Big Year at allmovie
- The Big Year at Box Office Mojo
- The Big Year at the Internet Movie Database
- The Big Year at Metacritic
- The Big Year at Rotten Tomatoes