The Big Year on DVD: What I learned from the movie

Husband Steve poses with The Big Year movie poster just before opening weekend

Last week The Big Year came out on DVD, wedged in between GOP primaries and caucuses and just days before the Big Daddy-ist of all events: The Super Bowl. If you have Apple TV you might have noticed it at the top of your screen floating around with other new arrivals like Drive and The Losers. Or you might have seen it at Red Box as you stood outside McDonald’s. Nevertheless, The Big Year came and I wanted to shout it from the roof tops, but it was a little hard getting everyone’s attention.

So here I am now. Please listen up: The Big Year is a pretty fun movie where you’ll laugh and most likely learn something new. It’s one of those “I had no idea” moments. There’s this whole world out there you probably had no idea about.

I’m talking to all you folks who are a lot like me: Either you didn’t know much about birding or you are new to it (me). Ever since I read Mark Obmascik’s book, The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession I’d been evangelizing it to friends and family. It’s one of the best books to introduce the average person to birding. And I knew the movie would do the same thing–especially with big names such as Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin. The book, which I read just after marrying my husband certainly helped give me a history of birding and the nuances and quirks of birders. I was new to birding, but most of all wanted to impress my birder husband with my knowledge.

When in Rome….

The Big Year isn’t a bucket list movie, although the previews might lend you to believe that. I can see how it was a bit of a struggle putting together the trailer for the movie. How do you get people to run to a movie that’s about birds? Well, people who aren’t the Audubon? So, what the trailer can’t provide I’ll deliver here with my list of five wonderful things you’ll benefit from by watching The Big Year.

  1. It makes for excellent dinner party conversation. There are so many things you pick up from this movie. I’m not talking about the obvious, “Hey, did you know people do competitive bird watching?” followed by the big belly laugh around the table. I’m talking more along the lines of “Have you ever heard of the phenomenon called a bird fall out?” For some reason nature and weather patterns make for great dinner conversations plus you get to be the smartest person in the room without sounding like Cliff Claven from Cheers.
  2. You’ll learn about some great places in the U.S. Birding is interesting. It can actually take you places you never thought of going. And it makes you look at the places you’ve been traveling to differently. Sure, I’d been to Arizona before, but before I met my husband I’d never gone there birding, which turns out, is a spectacular place to bird. Been to a National Park a few times? Try finding a bird list, which most National Parks have and try to find some new lifers. You’ll look at your favorite park very differently. (Though the idea of birding at a landfill isn’t my idea of vacation. I’m just not there yet. May not get there. We’ll see.)
  3. Learn how to balance your life. This is the parallel narrative in the movie that hits home with most people. Sure, there are some birders out there who are completely obsessed, as depicted by Owen Wilson’s character, Kenny Bostick. His family life (including his previous marriages) suffers as a result of his obsession. On the other hand, Steve Martin’s Stu Preissler understands a little more about balance and takes the time to cherish his family and new grandson.
  4. Do what it takes to do something great. This is Brad Harris’s narrative (based on real-life birder, Greg Miller, played by Jack Black). The guy would have been seen as a loser by many (including his father), but he was truly following his passion, even if it meant living on a diet of peanut butter and pretzels, which by the way was so understated in the movie that if you hadn’t read the book and known that you would have missed it. I’m wired this way (reaching for the brass ring and a diet of peanut butter) and I’ve said this for years: If you want to follow your dreams or your passion you should do anything to reach them. I don’t care if you have limited income or there are other obstacles in your way. For crying out loud, do what it takes to follow your passion. There is always a way.
  5. There still is something wonderful about the honor system. The whole idea of a Big Year is trusting people to be honest. I love that this still exists in the real world today. The idea that people will spend their time and money traveling around North America documenting these birds on a list and that people will respect that is so honorable it gives me faith in mankind again.

So rent The Big Year and don’t miss out on these wonderful lessons in life. And then after you watch it, pick up some binoculars, or put out some feeders in your yard–especially because that groundhog says we got some more winter coming. You’ll open up a whole new world for yourself.