The Big Year Is for the Birds
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2011 14 Oct
DVD Release Date: January 31, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: October 14, 2011
Rating: PG (for language and some sensuality)
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: David Frankel
Actors: Jack Black, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, JoBeth Williams, Kevin Pollack, Joel McHale, Anjelica Huston, Rashida Jones
A movie about birding sounds rather boring: Who wants to watch people watching birds? But a movie about birding starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson? Now that shows more promise. Surely anything with those three should be hilarious and worth watching.
The Big Year, starring the three above-mentioned comedians as well as a stellar supporting cast, squanders its stars and settles for sentiment and stale relationship drama. It’s also shockingly devoid of big laughs.
That’s frustrating, because in an age of crude sexual comedies, a gentler, wittier approach to situations with comedic potential could have satisfied a large audience segment underserved by current cinematic offerings. Instead, The Big Year rarely approaches witty; it’s mostly flat and uninspired. One wonders what the cast members saw in the screenplay from Howard Franklin, who once wrote a bizarre, darkly funny Bill Murray film titled Quick Change. Here there’s nothing dark or bizarre, and very little subtext—everything is on the surface, but none of it is interesting.
Kenny Bostik (Owen Wilson, Cars 2) is the reigning champ of a year-long contest of who can see the most bird species. Contestants drop everything to participate in the “Big Year” competition: They travel to locations where unique weather phenomena gather thousands of birds in one spot, or they chase after the one bird species that has always eluded them—a pink-footed something or other, a snowy-looking owl, etc.
Kenny is so determined to retain his title as Big Year champion that he leaves his wife behind to pursue fertility treatments on her own. Sulking over Kenny’s prolonged absence, she strikes back by renovating their home. It’s a stock marital dispute, made tolerable only by the presence of Rosamund Pike (An Education) in the role of Kenny’s wife.
More supportive is the wife of business magnate Stu Preissler (Steve Martin, It’s Complicated). She wants Stu to pursue his passion, but Stu’s employees want him to stick closer to home. His company is on the verge of a major transaction, and Stu’s guiding hand is needed in the office more than ever. But that’s not enough reason for Stu to stick around. His company, the livelihoods of his employees—nothing matters as much as Stu’s Big Year. So Stu leaves his co-workers (Kevin Pollack, Joel McHale) in the lurch over and over again, racing to see whatever bird has previously eluded him.
Brad Harris (Jack Black, Kung Fu Panda 2) has a job he can’t stand, and a desire to do a Big Year. What he needs is more money. His mother (Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole) is willing to coordinate his travels, but his father (Brian Dennehy, The Next Three Days) wishes his son would grow up, give up his dreams and work a steady job. Brad chooses to chase after the Big Year title, enlisting Stu’s help in an effort to dethrone Kenny.
The Big Year has a few mild laughs early on, but those moments are the comic peak of this episodic, pointless story. With no sharp edge to its humor, The Big Year lays on the sentiment, often keyed by a soft guitar and a sappy soundtrack. Can Kenny work things out with his wife? Will Stu find peace away from the office? Will Brad make his dad proud?
Were these the questions you thought would be posed by a film starring three of our brightest comic talents? If not, take a pass on The Big Year. Watching a cable documentary about birding would be a much wiser, more educational choice—and it might even contain more laughs than this languid, lethargic movie.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; “c-ap”; “a-s”; “p-ss off”; “son of a b-tch”; a middle finger extended.
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Drinking with dinner; a character asks, “What’s [he] smoking? Because I’d like to get me some of that!”
- Sex/Nudity: None; Kenny’s wife shown in a towel and a bathrobe; husband and wife kiss; suspicions over a wife’s possible affair are quickly shot down.
- Violence/Crime: Brief shot of a gun shooting at a bird; Kenny uses a handicap placard to park in a handicap space; a woman threatens Kenny with a knife; vomiting; a woman injects hormones into her back side; Brad is kicked in the face by accident; a woman is attacked by birds.
- Marriage: A Big Year is said to have caused the dissolution of one of Kenny’s previous marriages; marital strain is evident between Kenny and his current wife; Brad’s marriage has ended.
- Religion: Stu cites an “act of God” for avoiding a business transaction
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.