The Big Year is a good idea if money is no object

The Big Year Extended Edition – 2011

Directed by David Frankel
Starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, John Cleese, Joel McHale, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parsons, Rashida Jones, Anjelica Houston, Rosamund Pike, Anthony Anderson, Corbin Bernsen, Kevin Pollak, Al Roker, Stephen Weber
Written by Howard Franklin

Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson are Stu Presslier, Brad Harris and Kenny Bostick, 3 of many avid bird watchers who are working on a Big Year.  This is a competition (done on the honor system) where one tries to see as many birds as possible.  The current record holder in the film is Bostick, who set the record in the early 2000’s and has successfully defended it ever since.  That this has cost him a couple of marriages, money and even more relationships is incidental.  This movie professes to be all about the birds.  Anything else is just a punchline.

Birding is somewhat of a fascinating movie topic for me.  One can justly relish the thought of whiling away hours of the day just listening and watching.  Unfortunately, The Big Year is filled with noise, stumbling and throwing up.  The best moments in the film are the quiet ones.  The establishment of a friendship between Stu and Brad, the blossoming relationship of Brad and fellow Birder, Ellie (Jones) and the familial relationships of Stu, his wife, his son and grandson.  There are plenty of bird-watching scenes too, although not as many or as intense as one would like.  John Cleese provides a dignified sound as the narrator.  Ironic choice for a North American contest.

Not so much fun is watching the arrogant (and my friend would say, conch nosed) Owen Wilson basically acting like an arrogant ass at every stop.  We are supposed to root against him, of course.  I just keep thinking that he is capable of better work.  Black is best when he isn’t falling over and acting like a buffoon.  Most other times, he is fun to watch.  He has an engaging smile and a sweet disposition.  He’s done better work, but he’s also done a lot worse.

Steve Martin has done so much good work, and so much crappy work, I am just happy when his work doesn’t have him mugging like an idiot.  Here he is an easy spirit, just trying to find some peace among all of his riches.  JoBeth Williams making a rare appearance as her wife is a pleasant touch.  She has a pleasant smile after all of these years.

The movie takes its time getting to a resolution that is soft as a down blanket.  One hopes there will be something to remember about this film.  There might have been, perhaps, had the camera lingered a bit more on the subject in the title.

“He got more birds.  But we got more…everything.”

You can imagine what this means.  I imagine this means that they all had an unlimited budget.

(*** out of *****)

 

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