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20th Century Fox Film Corp.

The Big Year

Movies | This comedy is not just for the birds

Issue: "Beyond the body count," Nov. 5, 2011

Tootsie director Sydney Pollack once remarked that comedy is more difficult to direct than drama because he could film dramatic scenes in several different ways, but with comedy, there is usually only one right way to hit that comedic note. This inherent inflexibility in comedy means comedians are often underappreciated as actors because their roles usually don't afford them the opportunity to show dramatic range.

The Big Year provides a vehicle for three popular comedians to showcase their comedic chops while also delivering moments of tension that demonstrate their effectiveness in handling dramatic roles.

Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin portray three men at different life stages who share one thing in common: a love for birding. All three have their sights set on a "big year," which entails seeing as many bird species as one can in the United States in a calendar year.

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For Kenny Bostick (Wilson), birding is his life. He has sacrificed two marriages and is endangering a third in his efforts to set and surpass his national big year record of 732.

Brad Harris (Black) has lived an aimless existence, bouncing around from job to job, but discovered a passion and a purpose in birding and convinces his mother (Dianne Wiest) and his reluctant father (Brian Dennehy) to support his attempt at a big year while he tries to hold down a job.

Stu Preissler (Martin) has achieved virtually everything he ever wanted: a successful company with subordinates who practically idolize him and a family that adores him. He is finally ready to retire and pursue his long-time desire for a big year.

The Big Year (rated PG for some sensuality and language) has its share of delightful comedic moments as Kenny, Brad, and Stu try to outdo each other in breaking the record, but the film also embraces various family dynamics and conflicts in surprisingly raw and true-to-life situations that convey both the child-like joy and potential human cost of living a big year.

Listen to a report on The Big Year on the Oct. 22 edition of the radio program The World and Everything in It.

Michael Leaser
Michael Leaser

Michael is editor of FilmGrace and an associate of The Clapham Group.

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