Thursday, February 2, 2012

David Frankel's THE BIG YEAR: that rare movie for birders arrives on DVD

Someone at Fox studios must be into bird-watching bigtime, no? Otherwise why greenlight a movie based around an activity (and that activity's "annual event") of which few in the mainstream audience will have heard or probably care. Still, Fox did it, and Trust Movies is glad -- for the result, while no ground-breaker or record-setter in any category, remains a very pleasant comedy with enough charm and laughs to entertain for its 100 painless minutes. Plus, it gives those of us who know little about bird-watching the opportunity to understand a bit of its quiet, though colorful, allure.

Directed  by David Frankel (shown at left, of Marley and Me and The Devil Wears Prada) and written by Mark Obmascik (from his book of  the same name) and Howard Franklin, the movie, which takes place over approximately one year, details the trials of three bird-lovers who hope to win the award for spotting the most rare birds within a single year. This means hopping from one part of our vast country to the other -- and even abroad -- to see and/or hear the song of the birds in question. Interestingly, this contest proceeds on the honor system, something that appears to have practically died out in the western world. (In the eastern? Forget it. Honor just means you can kill your sister for her infraction of being human.)

Because these "birders" are played by Owen Wilson (above, as the guy who already holds the crown for bird-spotting), Steve Martin (below, right) and Jack Black (below, left), it should be clear that we are in for some fun -- though all three of these fine performers, while exhibiting the stuff we have come to enjoy and expect from them, keep their worst habits in check, playing instead for some subtlety and humanity. Their characters (and their lives) are a bit more complicated than is necessary for mainstream. This makes the movie perhaps less "riotous" but a lot more bearable.

Almost a rom-com, the film does not finally provide the ladies on view with enough control or screen time to do more than stand by their man (for awhile, in one case; in the other, to first discover that he is her man). But the three -- JoBeth Williams, Rosamund Pike (below) and Rashida Jones -- do more thsn enough with what they are given.

No great shakes, the movie would not have called out for me to cover it were it not for its unusual theme -- which is treated decently, I think, right through to the end credits -- in which all 750-odd birds spotted that year are given a visual (albeit, a very brief one) on the left hand side of the screen, as those credits pass by on the right.  The Big Year is available now on DVD and Blu-ray (it looks smashing in the latter venue).

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