Overall, I really enjoyed seeing this movie. I would recommend it to any of my friends and family, especially those who don't really understand what birding is. Of course, birding isn't competitive for everyone, but this movie delves into that aspect as well. I will put a Spoiler Alert here. If you have not seen the movie, do not read the remaining paragraphs.
The three main characters are Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin. All three have their own different approach and techniques to birding. They have different economic means and different support and priorities from their family and work networks.
Jack black was a working stiff who is trying to compete against two other men that have all the time in the world to bird. Jack ends up 'getting the girl' which was cool to see and he ends up coming second in the big year competition... but some may argue he should come first, because he started a relationship and maintained a job and even re-kindled a relationship with his father.
Owen Wilson was his charismatic self and came off as a talented and honest birder. He had good stories to tell and had so much going for him but we get to see his passion for birding slowly kills his relationship with his wife. I felt uncomfortable during various scenes where he neglects his wife... and my wife felt that tension as well. Indeed, Owen's character stated at one point: 'I have to keep birding because I need to be first... Nobody remembers the person who comes second'... his wife states, I know 'exactly' what you mean... very chilling, very ironic twist that the wife feels second and feels forgotten about in their marriage.
Steve Martin's character is a wealthy friendly retired type that is likable. He is a good birder that misses the occasional rarity due to work or family commitments. One cool scene that I liked in the movie with him was when he chased a Hummingbird in a BC neighborhood and he fumbles around trying to get past a backyard gate and suddenly, the iridescent Xantus Hummingbird flutters in front of him in slow motion. There are several great moments like this that show that special moment of seeing a rare bird for the first time.
Other such moments include Owen Wilson seeing a Great spotted Woodpecker after getting into an accident (that is similar to how I saw a Lewis's Woodpecker this summer, but instead of an accident, it was my son throwing up in the back seat of our rental car). Another scene that resonated with me was when Jack Black separates from his father in a forest and reunites with him during a special moment of seeing a perched Great grey Owl. His father who was so critical about birding discovered this awesome owl and they just quietly celebrate the moment with a hug and silent high-fives... A very cool moment in the film. A Pink footed Goose finding was exciting as well because it demonstrated the importance of persistence. Several attempts were made to see this bird but it was only seen on the fourth attempt. This is a moment that I have felt on a few occasions. In particular, last November when I found a Northern Shrike at Malden Park. Or finding an American Avocet in Leamington while driving this Summer. Moments of pure euphoria and excitement induced by a chance encounter with rare avifauna.
I can't really say anything bad about this movie. I know one criticism of the movie is that it shows how some birders are not very carbon friendly in their pursuits of avifauna. That is a tough one ... I know that for myself, I have driven great distances to birds (even Comber is 25 minutes northeast on the 401) but generally, we have above-average awareness of environmental issues and drive (hopefully) fuel-efficient cars. (I'll just drop it here).
I guess one take-away from this movie is that one can still be a good birder and balance work, life, family and relationships. For myself, my family comes first. Work and my continued schooling is very important as well. Like Jack Black's character in this movie demonstrates, coming second is ok if having a relationship at the same time can happen as well. And Owen Wilson's character is OK too. He dedicates his life to being first but at the expense of a wife that wants a divorce...My wife and I were really urking by the way he put her second to birding. (It reminded me about myself recently when I left shortly after a recent family dinner out to Comber to do some shorebirding in evening sunset light).
Besides the movie, I saw five birders at the theater that I've met through birding: Sarah from PPNP, Steven from HBMO, Karen from Ojibway, and of course, a nice birding couple from Kingsville that I met in Comber while searching for Hudsonian Godwits.
PS: Jim McCormac is an excellent naturalist and birder from Ohio and he wrote an excellent writeup on this movie here: http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/2011/10/big-year-review.html
PSS: With all the hype about Purple Galinule in the Niagara Region, I looked up an old photo from a Florida Everglades trip 2 years ago. Check it out below: