The Big Year (2011)
Directed by: David Frankel | 96 minutes | comedy | Actors: Jack Black, Zahf Paroo, John Cleese, Owen Wilson, Rosamund Pike, Steve Martin, Kevin Pollak, Joel McHale, JoBeth Williams, Paul Campbell, Cindy Busby, Greg Kean, Eva Allan, Bill Dow, Barry Shabaka Henley, Dianne Wiest Brian Dennehy, Calum Worthy, Anthony Anderson, June Squibb, Craig Bockhorn, Jim Parsons, Anjelica Huston, Rashida Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Aresco, Ryan Caltagirone, Al Roker, Christopher Mann, Jan Bos
Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin. David Frankel, director of films such as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (2006) and ‘Marley & Me’ (2008), has brought in quite a bit of comedic talent for his comedy ‘The Big Year’ (2011). It is all the more remarkable that all that humorous violence is not enough to get this slow-moving film off the ground. The basis of ‘The Big Year’ is Mark Obmascik’s book of the same name about a handful of obsessed bird watchers who say goodbye to their ordinary lives on January 1 every year to have a ‘big year’. They go out to spot as many different species of birds as possible. The three men from Obmascik’s book are played by the illustrious comedy trio Black, Wilson and Martin. In addition to their mutual struggle to spot the most birds, the film is also about the way the outside world handles their passion. They put their lives on hold for a year, and that naturally has a significant impact on their daily lives and their relationships. But the passion of the gentlemen is unable to transfer the film to the viewer and ‘The Big Year’ also misses the mark on a relational level.
‘You can’t compare this to golf. Golf is just a hobby,” said Kenny Bostick (Wilson), an avid bird watcher and record holder of birdwatching in one year with 732 unique North American species. His wife (Rosamund Pike) doesn’t understand; she would rather have seen him fulfill their wish to have children like her. Kenny’s competitors Stu Preissler (Martin) and Brad Harris (Black) are also encountering misunderstanding. Stu’s wife (JoBeth Williams) has come to terms with her husband’s obsession, but his colleagues (Kevin Pollack and Joel McHale) keep pestering him with their questions. And computer programmer Brad—who prides himself on being able to recognize all bird sounds—may be in his late forties, but he’s been living with his parents since his divorce. His mother (Dianne Wiest) covers her son’s curious hobby with the cloak of love, his father (Brian Dennehy) is less understanding. Where Kenny is all about corpses, so to speak, in order to maintain or rather improve his record, a special friendship develops between Stu and Brad.
Roughly speaking, ‘The Big Year’ is a series of three who traverse North America in search of rare birds, and their individual encounters with the home front. Really spectacular things don’t happen, so the film is limited to an admittedly charming but one-sided (and actually quite boring) collection of meaningless scenes. If Frankel had been able to bring out the passion of ornithologists and bird watchers better, it might have been interesting for like-minded people, but that passion never crackles. Frankel goes through it too quickly. He could have completely changed tack and turned it into a pure laughter movie, but the humor is kept to a minimum, making ‘The Big Year’ neither fish nor meat. Fortunately, the acting is of a decent level, but what do you want when you see what kind of can of stars has been opened. In addition to the aforementioned actors, newly arrived names such as Rashida Jones, Tim Blake Nelson and Anjelica Huston were also called in, some for only a minimal contribution. John Cleese delivers an introductory historical video. So you see that a parade of stars does not guarantee a fascinating film.
No tension, no jokes and too little focus on the birds to captivate real bird watchers. Seen in that light, ‘The Big Year’ – sorry for the pun – isn’t exactly a high-flyer. Still, the film has a lot of charm. With his light-heartedness, appealing cast and mild character, director Frankel does not offend anyone. But he probably won’t win many hearts with it either.