In The Big Year, three men facing varying life crises set off to set the record for most birds seen in a single year, known as a big year. One, Bostick (Owen Wilson), holds the current record, but feels compelled, for some unexplained reason, to better his own number even though his (third) wife has recently begun fertility treatments. In one painful scene, Bostick receives a call, with his hand on the door of the doctor’s office in which his wife waits for him with their fertility doctor, that a snowy owl has been sighted and he chooses to chase the owl rather than fulfill his promise to his wife. He’s a man obsessed.
Brad (Jack Black), a 36-year-old divorcee who hates his job, also wants to set the record. Brad can identify birds by call alone and, despite the displeasure of his father, goes into debt in order to follow his dream around his work schedule.
Stu (Steve Martin) has recently retired as CEO of a chemical company that he grew from his garage to the big time. Having spent his life for the company, Stu has vowed to fulfill his childhood dream of achieving the big year.
The movie raises questions about our obsessions and what is really important. Stu and Brad find friendship and discover what is most important. Bostick sacrifices everything to see 755 birds.
I love these three actors and have written elsewhere about my admiration for Steven Martin as Renaissance man (and he lives up to that moniker again as he stars in the movie and writes one of the songs on the soundtrack: Pitkin County Turnaround), so the film was bound to be a delightful hour and a half in the company of old friends.
When my husband asked this morning when we were going to have our big year, I chuckled and then began to think. What if, rather than waiting until retirement, our system allowed a midlife big year? An advance on retirement in which the oxen were released from the traces long enough to refresh them for taking them back up again for another twenty years. Like the old year in Europe backpacking after college, but for middle-aged people? No midlife crisis, wondering what you’ve done with your life and how you ended up here, but a year to do something on your bucket list without worrying if you’ll make it to the list before you kick the bucket. Time to assess and reorient before heading into the second half of your life.
It sounds as Hollywood make-believe as Brad being able to fly to Atoo on a schmuck’s salary. But isn’t it a fun big idea?
I still don’t know what I would do for my big year, or whether I’d have the courage to do it, but it’s fun to fantasize about. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.