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The Big Year

2011 | 100 min | PG | 2.39:1

The Big Year


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1 user review

Movie appeal




Theatrical release date

 14 October, 2011
 11 November, 2011

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from The Big Year Blu-ray

The Big Year Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 15, 2011

The world of birding gets a hit of the Hollywood spotlight with “The Big Year,” a comedy that’s actually quite entertaining when it stays focused on the competitive aspects that come into play when tracking our flying feathered friends. The rest of the picture is devoted to only moderately interesting characters struggling with mundane domestic worries, boxed into a gentle PG-rated package that’s friendly enough, but lacks a vigorous wit. I’d write that “The Big Year” is for the birds, but it’s quite enjoyable at times -- a bright and colorful escapade across America (or likely Canada) with three affable comedians scrambling to make tepid material their own.

“The Big Year” is an event that attracts thousands of birdwatchers, tasked with spotting any many species as possible within a calendar year. The record belongs to Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), a cocky contractor who’s sunk his marriage to Barbara (Rosamund Pike) while pursuing the title. Brad Harris (Jack Black) is a docile tech worker hoping to try his hand at the hobby, nearly bankrupting himself in the process. And there’s Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), a wealthy businessman facing retirement, looking to finally accomplish his lifelong dream of a yearlong birding adventure. Hitting the trail, the men engage in a 12-month odyssey of alliances and competition, taking them all over the county, finding the spotting game a wonderful tool for self-inspection. However, troubles do arise, forcing the trio to choose between their passion and their obligations.

Adapted from the novel by Mark Obmascik, “The Big Year” has found its grit scrubbed away (harsh language has been crudely dubbed over), handed to director David Frankel for its big screen translation. The director of “Marley & Me” and “The Devil Wears Prada” constructs a placid tale of friendship and domestic disorder, utilizing the peculiar world of birding as its unique thumbprint, giving audiences something unusual to help choke down the eventual freefall into formula.

The birdwatching culture is intriguing, helping “The Big Year” grasp an amiable screen tempo as the characters set out to achieve their goals. Although Frankel must’ve set some type of world record for the largest use of stock footage in a major motion picture, the filmmaker does communicate an enviable sense of cross-country liberation, observing the men spend enormous amounts of time in the wild (from the deep south to the far reaches of Alaska), hoping for a single glance of a rare bird. Of course, this is no peaceful pastime, requiring intense study of weather patterns and rumor to help snatch the most rewarding peeks, with war declared between Bostick and the team of Harris and Preissler as they race from town to town, worried about their bird counts and reputations. The opportunities for slapstick comedy are numerous, yet “The Big Year” doesn’t chase full-size laughs, preferring to stay grounded with its characters. With this high profile of a cast, it’s a disappointment to find the feature providing more smiles than chuckles, almost afraid to charge ahead as a binocular-hoisting farce.

Offering an introduction of sorts to the world of birding (at least for me), “The Big Year” is quite compelling when studying the extremity of commitment required to achieve observational glory. Obviously accelerating the particulars of the hobby for comedic purposes, Frankel still manages to convey the desirable passion of the players, who work diligently to juggle their time with the birds and all the real world demands at home. “The Big Year” makes a huge mistake pushing those domestic concerns up front for the second half, watering down a merry comedy with melodrama, including abrupt medical issues with Harris’s disapproving dad (Brian Dennehy), and babyfever blues between Bostick and his wife. Preissler also has a dilemma with his corporate job, but the movie doesn’t make much of an effort to study the uncertainties of a fabulously wealthy guy. Homelife is critical to understanding the men, but it shouldn’t rob the picture of verve, taking the story down predictable routes of adversity to help inflate the sunny day mood of the conclusion. The bird boys just aren’t interesting enough for that kind of needless tonal adjustment.

“The Big Year” would be best played as fingerpaint, keeping a jubilant ambiance as the birders go about their peeping business, retaining a refreshing simplicity that grabs bigger laughs. Instead, it’s merely a mild charmer with a promising first act, communicating an appreciation for nature’s work and camaraderie that’s more appealing than any dinner table argument.

Starring: Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Rashida Jones, Anjelica Huston, Rosamund Pike
Narrator: John Cleese
Director: David Frankel

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