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The Big Year

MPAA Rating: PG-Rating (MPAA) for language and some sensuality.

Reviewed by: Lydia Harman—first time reviewer

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adventure Comedy Adaptation
1 hr. 40 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 14, 2011 (wide—2,200+ theaters)
DVD: January 31, 2012
Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Fox 2000 Pictures

birds in the Bible

mid-life crisis

late-life crisis

being ruled by obligations and responsibilities

following one’s dreams

competition / competitiveness

Review: Winged Migration (2003)

Learn more about God’s amazing creations in these excellent videos…

Featuring: Jim Parsons
Owen Wilson
Rosamund Pike
Rashida Jones
Jack Black
Steve Martin
Tim Blake Nelson
Brian Dennehy
Dianne Wiest
Anjelica Huston … Debi Shearwater
Joel McHale
Anthony Anderson
Kevin Pollak
See all »
Director: David Frankel—“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley and Me,” “Miami Rhapsody”
Producer: Deuce Three Productions
DreamWorks SKG
Fox 2000 Pictures
See all »
Distributor: Fox 2000 Pictures

“Everyone is searching for something.”

Editor’s Note: This review was written by a new volunteer. Please send us your evaluation of her work.

In a year when El Nino upsets the migratory path of a colossal number of birds, three obsessed birders set out on their own personal journeys to count as many ornithological species as they can in one calendar year. Thus, the title: ‘The Big Year.’ The far reaching excursions these birders take provide some beautiful scenery and glimpses of fascinating fowl. This trio of birders is as diverse as the species they are tracking. Thirty-something Brad Harris continues his full time employment, yet still remains in financial anguish chasing his feathered friends on weekends and personal days. Stu Preissler is a recently retired, self-made business man with the means to accomplish his flock following mission. Kenny Bostick is the highly competitive birdwatcher with an unsurpassed Best Year at the expense of a black book of divorced wives. He is the roadrunner everyone else is trying to decoy.

The main characters, portrayed by well-known comedians Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson, experience drama in their personal lives during each of their focused year-long, bird finding pursuits. While Harris’ mother acts as his personal travel agent and cheerleader, his father scoffs at his son’s birding hobby. Meanwhile, Harris is flying solo as a recently divorced, college drop-out—of which his father readily reminds him. Stu’s wife is the epitome of support, along with his son and recent daughter-in-law, but his explorations are continually disturbed by the big deals his ineffectual staff are powerless to facilitate. Bostick has a new wife whose delicate ambition is to be a mother. Mrs. Bostick suffers countless hormone treatments, only to find that the stork her husband is absently pursuing has nothing to do with their potential progeny.

The Epistle to the Ephesians (4:29) says:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Due to its ornithological focus and Parental Guidance rating, this is not the movie teenagers are flocking to, leaving the main audience for “The Big Year,” adults in two categories: birdwatchers and comedy seekers. Some simple ways to dramatically broaden the viewership and encourage family outings to this movie, include removing all the derogatory language, having all the actors wear dignified clothing, and putting a thermometer in Mrs. Bostick’s mouth to show natural family planning efforts, rather than seeing an injection in her backside.

Dispensing with the unnecessary bathroom humor antics of Stu retching over the side of a boat, seeing a car encased in bird droppings, and Bostick’s subtle wave of his middle finger at a British birder who finds the American Big Year birding competition absurd. Violence is another issue that would need to be addressed to provide a safe viewing environment for families. Young children are easily shocked by car crashes, dramatic plane turbulence, and the slaughter of animals, even when they are fish and birds. Even the disjointed hurling of a toilet through a window during a house remodeling, though shocking, did not add value to the plot or provide the intended comedic effect.

The Holy Bible, Epistle to the Colossians, chapter 3, verses 18-21 provides us with instructions for Christian households:

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Though love was an apparent theme in the movie, much of it had a dysfunctional edge. Had the producers considered these words from Colossians, they could have created a movie with Biblical values that church going families would be glad to attend with their children. Sadly, this is the biggest reconstruction assignment needed to make this movie suitable for all audiences.

The birding trio initially mentioned, originally lied about their intentions to attempt a Big Year, in hopes to overtake each other’s Big Year tally. That differs greatly from what the book of Ephesians 4:25 has to say:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

Bostick has a wife, but he is not attentive to her needs or their opportunity to build a family, but instead he focuses his attention on his obsession to maintain his 1st place position for a Big Year. Ephesians 5:28—In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

What the main characters do not anticipate is the intertwining of their own lives with each other, and the challenges that those relationships cultivate. In the end, there are winners, and there are losers, but by some twists of fate, it is not the culmination you might imagine.

Unfortunately, this movie has a conundrum. It is a family movie, but due to its worldly perspective, it is not appropriate for a family audience. Therefore, I would have to take it off my recommended family movie viewing list and hope that movie produces consider how their ratings could soar if they would just stop shelling out movies that are literally, “for the birds”!

Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—I enjoyed this movie. The scenery was beautiful, and it was fun to see so many different species of birds. More importantly, I liked the interplay between the leads, and the heart that this film had. Each was pursuing his dream of “the big year,” and two came to healthy conclusions about what is really important in life, namely the ones you love and spending time with them.

Refreshingly clean, not a great movie, but a pleasant way to spend a few hours at the movies.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Lynn, age 47 (USA)
Positive—My husband and I saw this on a recent “date.” The movie surprised me on several levels. Primarily, it was not funny. …The TV commercials led me to believe it might have been intended as a comedy. While there were humorous moments, they came naturally, not like the forced silliness that I’ve grown to expect from Misters Black, Martin, and Wilson.

Secondly, the movie was not focused on sin. It was focused on achieving a goal, and demonstrating what people sacrifice in the pursuit of a goal. It raised questions about priorities, as well as ethics and morality. It also showed the danger of obsession versus the fulfillment of a healthy passion. The theme of responsibility was an interesting undercurrent.

Finally, the movie was heartwarming. It showed the value of family by contrasting a character with failed (and failing) marriages to one with a strong, life-long marriage.

It also had a sweet father-son message and provided a strong, supportive mother character. All in all, I don’t think there was anything to worry about with kids, since kids will not be interested in seeing the movie.

The cinematography was amazing, and the actors were convincing in their individual roles. I did not find it morally offensive—no sex or drugs, and limited foul (fowl?) language.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Diane C. Porter, age 41 (USA)
Neutral—I am straddling the fence between neutral and negative about this film. Mostly, the movie has a very lame script that does not communicate a cohesive story. Too many themes sloppily put together.

The actors are all accomplished, but either grossly miscast (as in Rosamund Pike of the Jane Austen movie fame, but with Owen Wilson?—no chemistry whatsoever), or poorly directed.

There are some laughs; I counted 11 (yes, I counted). The positives of the movie are the beautiful scenery and the birds.

Too bad this was such a boring movie. In contrast, I saw “Winged Migration,” produced some years ago by the Cousteau family, twice on the big screen and loved it and will never be the same. I have done birding, so I stuck with “The Big Year,” which is about three goofy birders, right to the end.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 2½
Halyna Barannik, age 65 (USA)
Neutral—Not sure how this got an offensive rating, there was nothing in it. It did show how marriages can be affected by something else being more important then the spouse. But it was a very boring movie. I thought with the 3 of them, it’d be really funny. It really needed to be a movie that just went to video.

There were only a couple things in it, but nothing to have made it get an offensive score. I wouldn’t waste your money on it, wait for the DVD.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Tracy Vanpatten, age 48 (USA)
Positive—I loved this movie! It was so fresh and original. This is a movie you do not want to judge by its trailer—it was misrepresented as a senseless comedy, and many scenes were shown out of context. There are great messages in here about family and what’s really important in life. The negative content level was low, the intelligence level was high, and my whole family enjoyed it immensely!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Kadie Jo, age 19 (USA)
Neutral—I thought this movie was pretty clean, especially for the two main actors that were in it. I was just kind of bored; I even got my computer out to work on it. It wasn’t very funny, the scenery was cool, but just pretty boring. I was impressed how much cleaner it was than it could have been—so good job for that part.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
Samantha, age 37 (USA)
Negative—I went into this movie thinking that the premise seemed silly (birdwatching), but I figured with a combination like Martin, Black and Wilson, what could go wrong? Answer: This movie! I expected to see an entertaining comedy, instead I got more of a documentary. I don’t want to sound insulting, but, in my opinion, there’s no other way to put it, the movie was boring! I rarely walk out of a theater before the end of a movie, but after an hour into this one, we got up and left! Save your time and money on this one!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
RD, age 42 (USA)
Movie Critics
“…Previews for ‘The Big Year’ might lead you to believe that the movie’s little more than a bird-brained farce—‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ with plumage. But even with its smattering of profanity and alcohol-infused scenes, it’s actually kinder and gentler than that. And it’s a great deal more redemptive as it wrestles with the importance of pursuing your dreams… and ponders the relational cost of doing so. …”
Paul Asay, Plugged In
“…has an innocence and charm that will make it appealing for families, especially those who have had enough whales and dolphins for the year. …”
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“…a sloppy and rather sweet human comedy aimed at parents, grandparents, nature-lovers, and other people ill-served by Hollywood. …”
Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
“…it has barely enough pulse to power a hummingbird. …”
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“…never truly takes flight… You’d have to really love birding as much as the guys here do to enjoy the strained buddy comedy ‘The Big Year’ to its fullest potential. …”
Christy Lemire, Associated Press Movie Critic
“Seeking to capture the fan/collectors/enthusiast gene, ‘The Big Year’ uses Mark Obmascik’s book about obsessed ‘birders’ and transforms it into a genial if slow-moving, almost sleepy comedy. …delivers sweet and (more rarely) amusing moments…”
Brian Lowry, Variety
“…Apart from a few reliably hilarious sight gags… the comedy of ‘The Big Year’ is gentle and low key. …poke[s] fun at the foibles of the birding tribe, but they avoid easy, mean caricatures. …”
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
“…Very strong moral worldview with pro-family message that also extols good relationships between married couples and between children and their parents and a positive, heartwarming view of friendship, plus some pro-capitalist references and strong Christian, redemptive elements…”
Ted Baehr, Movieguide

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