A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this good-natured comedy about birding enthusiasts may initially disappoint fans expecting the usual shtick from co-stars Jack Black and Owen Wilson. But they'll get over it, because what's left is an offbeat, gentle, but still hilarious movie about finding your bliss ... with balance. (There's lots to learn about birds, too.) Although the movie is rated PG, and the content is mild overall -- there's some swearing (including "s--t") and some sexual references -- this movie is more likely to appeal to older tweens, teens, and adults than younger kids.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Contractor Ken Bostick (Owen Wilson) holds the record for a so-called "big year" in bird watching, having spotted 732 feathered species around the globe. He's anxious to preserve his place as birding king, even if it means forgoing baby-making duties with his wife (Rosamund Pike). But the competition is breathing down his neck, namely amiable Brad Harris (Jack Black), a computer techie with a big heart, a disapproving dad (Brian Dennehy), and an ever-supportive mom (Dianne Wiest). Brad can barely afford to try for the record, but he wants to anyway. And then there's mogul Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), who decides it's really, truly, finally the time to retire so that he can indulge in his favorite pastime -- and make birding history, too. Competition, hilarity, and, in some cases, lifelong friendship ensue.
Is it any good?
It's hard to imagine Jack Black and Owen Wilson in a quiet movie (Steve Martin is less of a stretch), but here they are. The title is a decoy, really; though THE BIG YEAR could have gone big (and gone home as yet another obnoxiously loud film), it instead delivers subtlety and soul. So what if it's not laugh-out-loud funny? Yes, it could have used a few more major moments, and the competition could have been amped up for deeper laughs. But what we get instead isn't a bird of the same feather; instead, it's one that -- wait for it -- soars.
In all earnestness, expect to be surprised at how educational The Big Year feels (just wait for the scene showing how the bald eagle mates). But what differentiates the movie from a National Geographic special are its three leads, all of whom exhibit exquisite control over their comedic gifts. They've each found a way to mute (in a good way) their individual sensibilities -- Black's rocker-in-your-face-ness, Martin's sometimes too-cosmopolitan wit, and Wilson's aw, shucksness -- that, when let loose, sometimes overwhelm. Sure, each character's romantic counterparts seem incidental, and the film occasionally borders on identity disorder with its travelogue elements (did we really need to see quite so many countries and cities?). Otherwise, it's a delight.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages. What is it saying about friendship? About competition?
How does the movie handle each character's obsession? Is it an accurate depiction of how a hobby can consume? Have you ever had an interest that "took over"?
How does this movie compare to the stars' other films? Who do you think it's most likely to appeal to? Why?
- In theaters: October 14, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: January 31, 2012
- Cast: Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin
- Director: David Frankel
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Friendship, Wild Animals
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: language and some sensuality
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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