THE BIG YEAR Review

What went wrong here? That was all I could think as I watched the depressingly below standard "comedy" that is "The Big Year". Upon first hearing about the project it seemed like a dream team of a film. I really enjoy the work of both Owen Wilson and Jack Black no matter how bad Black's work and box office have slowly gone down hill the past few years. Wilson on the other hand has had a pretty great year with "Midnight in Paris" as well as "Hall Pass" and "Cars 2" making solid entries at the box office if not exactly stellar products in the critic's eyes. Having Steve Martin here was just a bonus, though he has resorted to more family friendly films recently, "It's Complicated" gave a glimpse of that inappropriate funny guy again. Having him team up with this younger generation of comedic actors might not have been "Bowfinger" but I certainly expected more than this. Especially with David Frankel at the helm. He and Wilson made a hit out of "Marley and Me" not to mention he made the fashion world appealing to all with "The Devil Wears Prada". So again, what went wrong here?

Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson compete
to spot as many species of birds as they can in
a single year.
Let's start with the subject of the film: birding. I don't have an issue with this as much as I do the execution of it. I have no doubt the book this idea spawned from was rather charming and insightful to a world so many people don't even acknowledge. Some of the tidbits Black's character narrates hint at what a vast world and regal aura these animals have around them and to the people who dedicate their lives to studying and seeing them. What is wrong with the film is that it hardly seems to let us into this world. It doesn't convince us of a real reason as to why these men are so passionate about their feathered friends, there is no motivation that shows us reason for the passion. This leaves us not in the dark but in a state where we are made to accept that it isn't out of the ordinary for regular guys to have a goal in life that requires them seeing hundreds of species of birds in a year. The whole movie though feels like a half hearted effort. There is no urgency in the pacing, even as the competition draws to a close. There is nothing that elicits big laughs and besides the fact this feels unnecessarily tamed down to be a family film all it really means is that this is a waste of a collaboration that should have been much more rewarding.

Black's Brad Harris and Martin's Stu
Preissler become good friends...
The story centers around Black's Brad Harris who is 36, divorced, and working at a job he hates. Brad's one passion is birds and has a gift of being able to recognize them by their songs. Black actually does turn in a solid performance here though he is made to narrate the film in what feels like a really amateur move by Frankel. We are told the feelings everyone is going through even though we clearly get what the images and the actors are telling us. It is as if the story was so scattered in the directors mind that he had to rely on his protagonist to keep everything straight in his head. Maybe he thought this might help the audience as well, but in reality we understand what's going on here and don't need to be talked down to, I felt almost insulted as an audience member, that we were underestimated in not being able to understand the aspirations, goals, and purposes for Black, Martin's, and Wilson's characters. The actors should almost feel the same way. Wilson does his best here to bring his usual zestful charm to a man who is the current record holder for seeing the most birds in his big year but is also too distracted by his own interests to realize the wants and needs of his wife who desires to have a baby with him. This role brings up another disappointing aspect of the film. The lovely and talented Rosamund Pike plays Wilson's Kenny Bostick's wife but it is such an underdeveloped, stock character her time feels wasted. The same can be said for Kevin Pollack, Joel McHale, Rashida Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parsons and Anjelica Huston. Brian Dennehy almost makes the list as well, but a scene late in the film with he and Black is one of the films only honest moments.

...while Wilson's Kenny Bostick is determined to not allow
his new competitor's to break his record.
Throughout the course of watching these three men trying to accomplish their goal of completing a big year that also serves as a kind of metaphor for them attaining that position in life where they feel content is what drives the movie. It should be about finding a satisfaction in life that no one can give you but yourself, but instead this feels like a standard inspirational film that would have played better as a TV movie. The worst part being that three great talents were wasted on such a tame piece of material. When you hear Jack Black, Owen Wilson, and Steve Martin you should not be wrong in expecting a collaboration that will produce a fair amount of laughs and a comedy film that proves itself worthwhile. But instead, "The Big Year" feels like a rushed effort that unlike its subject matter, never gets its feet off the ground. The fact the marketing for this film was horrible doesn't help either. Why did we not get a trailer until less than a month before its release date? Why was such a star-loaded vehicle put on the back burner? And why even sign these three on for a movie if you aren't going to go big or go home? This is an average movie, that when you take it for what it is: a reliable film that has its moments, and will make you chuckle a few times but never laugh out loud. It is when you begin to think of what this could have been that "The Big Year" seems more of a disappointment than ever.