The Way and The Big Year- Same Same But Different

This week we saw two movies, The Way and The Big Year. It might seem these movies have almost nothing in common with one another. The first is a serious film starring dramatic actor Martin Sheen and the second is a funny film starring comedian Steve Martin. The men both have ‘Martin’ in their name that’s one way they are the same. 

When we were holidaying in Vietnam we saw all these shirts that said Same, Same But Different. That phrase is sort of the unofficial slogan of the country. At my son’s wedding I gave a speech about how he and his new wife were same, same, but different. The phrase same, same but different came to mind as I was watching The Way and The Big Year. In both movies the characters are on a quest. 

In The Way four people are walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It was an important route for Christian pilgrimages during medieval times. I felt like I had a personal connection with the film because my cousin and his wife  have just returned from a trip to Spain during which they too walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Tom, the character played by Martin Sheen in the movie, is on a quest to make peace with himself after his son’s death. He died on the Camino trail and Tom has decided to walk its 750 kilometers in his son’s memory, spreading the young man’s ashes along the way. He meets three other people who are all on quests too, one to lose weight, one to quit smoking and another to write a book, but of course they are really on quests to deal with problems in their past, issues of self esteem and spiritual unrest. 

In the movie The Big Year three men are on a quest to  try to spot more species of birds in one year than anyone else in North America. I felt I had a personal connection with this movie because I went to see it with my friend Fran who has been an avid bird watcher for decades. Stu, one of the main characters, played by Steve Martin may be looking for birds but really he is on a quest to discover whether he can leave behind his multi-million dollar business empire and enjoy retirement. One of his co-stars Brad is really on a quest to prove to his father that he is not a loser and the other Kenny wants to figure out whether his passion for his wife or for birds is going to rule his life. 


Both The Way and The Big Year have an important message to share and they are not subtle about the fact. A critic of my writing tells me I need to leave more up to my readers to figure out, rather than telling them outright what I’m trying to say. Both these movies suffer from the same problem I do. They literally hit you over the head with their message and it is pretty much the same. People and relationships are the most important things in life not careers or hobbies or possessions.

Although the movies are set in different places, The Way in Europe and The Big Year in North America both offer stunning scenery shots.  Both got my wanderlust juices flowing again –The Way invoking a desire to see the Pyrenees and The Big Year to visit Alaska.

Summing up the same, same aspects of these films…… both start with the word THE, both  movies starred guys with Martin in their name, both had a personal connection for me, both were about people on quests –obvious as well as hidden quests, both had spectacular scenery and both conveyed  the same message.

So what was different?  The Big Year kept me awake and laughing-as the characters competed with each other, got into scrapes and got out of them. The film managed to keep all three main storylines entertaining and engaging.  

The Way put me to sleep- too much walking and sharing and spreading ashes and introspection and then walking, sharing, spreading and introspecting again. I honestly didn’t care about the characters or get to know them very well. In The Big Year you actually get to meet the people in the main characters’ lives. In The Way you don’t, except for the occasional ghostly sighting of Tom’s dead son.

The Way starred Martin Sheen and Emilio Estavez but everyone else in it was  an unknown actor. The Big Year stars Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson and has great cameo appearances by people like Angelica Huston playing a crusty boat captain and Dianne Weist as a mother who never gives up on her son. John Cleese even narrates a little history of  The Big Year concept and one of the nerds from the TV show The Big Bang Theory has a bit part. 

Summing up the differences in the movies…….. one was a serious drama, one was a comedy, one had mostly unknown actors, one was studded with famous performers, one developed the characters and let you see what their personal lives were like, one had more introspective singular characters and you never met the other people in their lives, one entertained me and kept me engaged and the other put me to sleep. 

I am going against convention with my evaluation of these movies. The Way received an 81% audience approval rating on the famous Rotten Tomatoes Review page and The Big Year only a 53%. 

Two movies. Same, same but different. What next? I wonder what movies I’ll take in next week. Being able to see more movies is one of the nice things about being retired and living in a city with a dozen different theatres. 


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Filed under Culture, Media, Nature, Religion

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