What would you do if you had one year in which you could do anything? Chances are it wouldn’t be bird spotting, but Brad Harris (Jack Black), Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) and Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) are doing exactly that, participating in a ‘Big Year’. During this year, they have to ‘spot’ as many birds as possible, from the common to the elusive. The participant with the most spots (no, not the acne kind) is crowned King (or Queen) of the Big Year. The previous Birder of the year, Bostick (Wilson) is desperate to defend his maddeningly excessive record of 732, abandoning his wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike) and their attempts to conceive a child in order to ascertain who of the frenetic bird watchers are his foes and opponents.
The film is an intriguing look at the reality of following our dreams.
Firstly, when you confess your dreams, most people will bluntly state: what the f***? You’re giving up X, Y, Z to do WHAT? Or look at you with dementedly confused acceptance. The reality is, one person’s dream is another’s nightmare (or night in). Brad (divorced and unemployed at 36) has a father who simply cannot fathom his sons passion for birding and his desire to derail a year of his life in pursuit of cries, calls and sightings, instead of getting his s*** together. Stu’s firm cannot comprehend why he would throw away a lifetime building up a successful business just to abandon it overnight for a flight of fancy, and Kenny’s wife is infuriated and devastated that furry critters come first for her distanced, compulsive husband, leaving her very much a bird in her own cage struggling to keep the day to day running in his absence.
Secondly, what is your reason for pursuing this dream?
For Kenny, its glory, the cementing of his success, an achievement, which he viciously guards like a mother hen fending off potential challengers to her young. Kenny would forsake a family and the actual continuation of his name and lineage for a title and the status and accomplishment that comes with that.
For Stu, it’s a shot at another kind of big time, away from business and board rooms.
For Brad, it’s about doing something that he genuinely wants to do.
Thirdly, what allows you to follow a dream?
For Brad, its easy….he’s already messed up his life. There is no real risk or danger. Without a job or family, he has the freedom to make mistakes and act for his own interests.
For Stu, it’s a supportive wife and the assurance to walk away from an established, decade’s long career.
For Kenny, it’s sheer tenacity and willpower to pursue that dream to the brink of the horizon and back.
Finally, what fulfilment do you receive from chasing or reaching that dream?
For Stu and Kenny, the contentment is in the taking part, the journey, even if both had a strong thirst to win.
For Bosick, the measuring stick is the victory at the end. He doesn’t have time to forge genuine friendships or nurture his outside obligations along the way.
It seems there are two types of dream chasers (there are probably more but maths was never my strong point).
The type that chase a dream for the view along the way, and the type that are out to meet an end goal.
I enjoyed this exploration of three men chasing a dream, all for different reasons and with different expectations, sacrifices and results.
You might remember the three leading men and star chasers for their comedic roles – Jack Black (School of Rock/Tropic Thunder), Owen Wilson (Zoolander/Wedding Crashers) and Martin (The Pink Panther/Cheaper by the Dozen) and although there are moments of hilarity, this is a touching drama and is unusually interesting despite the potentially dry subject matter. Don’t write this off as ‘just a film about birds’. It’s really a film about dreams and what we give up to chase them.