Much like the insular culture of birdwatching, “The Big Year” doesn’t have enough broad-base appeal. While heartfelt, it falls flat on comedy and storytelling. It’s certain to be a hit among birders, but there is little to flock to for outsiders.
Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson are at a crossroads — one is experiencing a mid-life crisis, another a late-life crisis, and the third, a far from ordinary no-life crisis. From David Frankel, the director of The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, comes a sophisticated comedy about three friendly rivals who, tired of being ruled by obligations and responsibilities, dedicate a year of their lives to following their dreams. Their big year takes them on a cross-country journey of wild and life-changing adventures. (Synopsis by 20th Century Fox)
The concept of “The Big Year” is to count the highest number of birds within a given year. Wilson’s character is the current record-holder, while Martin and Black are attempting to break that record. While this should provide the opportunity for at least a decent film, it fails miserably at many levels. Boasting an accomplished cast and director, there should have been enough talent involved to right the ship. All three main actors do a passable job. Martin, in a more reserved role than usual, is often outshined by the flamboyancy of Black and the intensity of Wilson. Unfortunately, the poor writing (and, arguably, the poor choice subject matter) bogs the film down into an endless montage of monotonous road trips.
It is that continuous chase that completely kills the pacing of the film. Scene after scene involves going to a location, looking at birds, talking about birds, and then getting a phone call to go to another location. Lather. Rinse. Repeat for ninety minutes. To put it kindly, it’s boring.
Adding insult to injury, the shallow attempts at manufacturing drama are nearly criminal. Martin, despite being an extremely wealthy business executive, misses a flight and is forced to miss counting birds. This coming just thirty minutes of screen time after his executive board reminded him he had a private jet. Not bad enough? The other major plot point has the depth of grade school recess. All three characters are trying to keep a secret from each other. Drama: Black tells on Martin. Resolution: Black and Martin make up…all of two minutes later, while still in the same scene. Seriously? Way to build the conflict, guys.
The film is supposed to be about three people coming to terms with the changes in their lives. But it takes so long to get to that point that no one cares when it arrives. Even then, the changes that occur are so superficial they do little more than induce an eye-roll.
Speaking of eye-rolling, the “comedy” parts of the film sink to an all-time low. None of Martin or Black’s talent is utilized. It would have been better if they had been allowed to improv the entire movie instead of forcing out the script as written. At one point they resort to having Martin do his “Jerk” dance. At least, I think that’s what it was supposed to be—but it’s possible that the dialogue they had originally written was so bad Martin simply had a stroke while reading it.
The only positive thing I can find in this film is that the message is heartfelt; do the things you love and you’ll find happiness. A little sappy, but still nice to see occasionally. However, that “Pollyanna” message isn’t going to save a film when the writing is so glaringly terrible. A story without conflict is not interesting. “The Big Year” is certainly not interesting.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: Skip it. This also wins the Worst Product Placement award of the year. Martin—an extremely wealthy executive, remember—drives around in an Nissan Altima. What? Daewoo didn’t offer enough? I call fowl play.
ONE STAR out of four.
Directed by David Frankel. Written by Howard Franklin.
Rated PG for language and some sensuality.
Runtime: 1 hour and 30 minutes