The Big Year

20 Nov

Title: The Big Year
Year: 2011
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Howard Franklin, based on the book by Mark Obmascik
Starring: Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Rashida Jones, Anjelica Huston, Jim Parsons, Rosamund Pike, JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Anderson, Tim Blake Nelson, Joel McHale
MPAA Rating: PG, language and some sensuality
Runtime: 100 min
Major Awards: –
IMDb Rating: 5.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%


I had some really conflicting feelings going into The Big Year. On the one hand the posters and the trailers did nothing to reel me in, nor did the premise dealing with three friendly rival birdwatchers, each going through a crisis of sorts in their lives, competing to sport the rarest birds at a competition. And yet, I took a look at the talent involved here and I couldn’t help but hold out some hope for this film.

The director is David Frankel, the guy who had previously given us The Devil Wears Prada, which I’m a total sucker for, and Marley & Me which is quite good and one of the most effective tearjerkers in recent years. Then look at the actors, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black as the three leads, those are all great comedic actors, and supporting turns by the likes of Rashida Jones, Joel McHale, Jim Parsons and Dianne Weist added to the deep talent pool. I had to believe this one would make it on the strengths of its cast and crew alone.

And even though this is a film that I would actually go ahead and somewhat tepidly recommend, it just isn’t anything close to something great, which I thought was a real pity considering the folks that assembled themselves to make this film. I mean, you get the sense that Mr. Frankel and his talented group of actors really cared for this film, and their portrayal, along with Howard Franklin’s adaptation of the Mark Obmascik book, offers up a nice and careful exploration of these characters. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel as though this film just kind of dully dragged along and, most importantly, it never once got to be really funny, sure it got some giggles and chuckles, but considering the cast it had it should have been hilarious.

Yet even if it’s not super funny, there’s still stuff to like here. I mean, even though the fact that it’s a family comedy about birdwatchers sounds kind of iffy, and it many times is, it’s exactly that what lends The Big Year a kind of whimsical sense of humor that it uses quite well. Not to mention that in this day and age in which most of the comedies are R-rated and try to push the boundaries, I actually thought it was kind of nice to have a big PG-rated film that’s just a pleasant hour-and-a-half designed with all the fluff you would imagine and aimed just to make you have a good time.

Not to mention that you kind of learn about birdwatching while watching this film, which you may like or dislike, but at least you learn something new from watching this movie. You learn about their competitions, about their code of honor that trusts that they won’t lie about the number of birds they see, about what having a big year entails, and you will get a lot of jokes using terminology that only birdwatcher, or birders as you should preferably call them, will understand. Make of that what you may, but in this film we get thrown right into that level of competition with these birders trying to score a big year.

But those are kind of the only good things I can say about The Big Year, that it provides a rather earnest family comedy in our times that are filled with dirtier comedy and that it informs us about a rather peculiar hobby. But those feel kind of like excuses to make for stuff it lacks, actually. I mean, yes, it informs us about something we probably didn’t know about, but you would have been just as fine if you were left uninformed and the movie better if it had been about something else. And making this one so PG and family friendly means that you have a trio that would have excelled at giving us an edgier feature reduced to a more bland kind of comedy that, like I said, will make you giggle but not fight back laughter-induced tears from your eyes like it had the potential to do.

Mr. Wilson plays Kenny, the defending champion, while Mr. Black and Mr. Martin play Brad and Stu, respectively. And, in case you were wondering, they play their prototypical roles, Kenny is your typical Owen Wilson character which has a lot of charm, Brad is super-energetic and makes a fool of himself by falling down a lot like many other Jack Black creations, and Stu has that brand of earnestness that Mr. Martin has perfected over the past few decades. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that it’s not a new thing either, and it’s not played as well as we have seen it been done in the past.

Still, I would actually tell you that watching The Big Year would make for a decent escape from your daily routine at the movies. I mean, it’s not a comedic gem by any means, but there’s still a lot of harmless fun to be had while watching it, and the scenery is really gorgeous to take in. Not to mention that even in a just-okay film like this one, it’s always pretty fantastic to watch these people have fun together.

Grade: B-


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