One imagines the thought process going into The Big Year. You take an aging comedian willing to take a supporting role to two younger ones, combine it with a peculiar hobby & an engaging novel and what’s left could be the recipe for a great if quirky comedy. The problem is that it turned into The Big Year.
Following three guys heavily into bird-watching, or birding, we follow a year in the life of the three as they try to pull off a “big year” (where you try and see as many birds as one possibly can). They all have different backgrounds, and reasons for birding, and as we proceed along the film we see the nature of their obsession.
Stu (Martin) is a business mogul with obscene fortune trying to retire for the third time. He’s opted to spend this retirement trying to pull of his own “big year,” with the approval of his wife. Birding is something he loves to do but has always pushed aside because he’s been such a successful businessman.
Bostick (Owen Wilson) is a successful contractor who has sacrificed several marriages to his birding, en route to destroying his current one with Barbara (Rosamund Pike) for it. Birding is his obsession; he’s the current world record holder and the one thing he does better than anyone else in the world.
Brad (Jack Black) is a thirty something slacker who tends to quit everything he’s ever done. Divorced, and working a job he hates, he’s decided to pull off a big year to prove he can stick to something all the way through. His parents (Dianne West, Brian Dennehy) don’t understand his obsessions but his mother’s assistance outweighs his father’s disproval.
The problem is that the film generally doesn’t have many funny moments. Black has had a stretch where he’s been patently unfunny in a handful of films while being tremendously funny in smaller parts, prominently in Tropic Thunder. Wilson has been the same way, always carrying his weight opposite someone else but never strongly in a major role. Together neither has many moments where they’re funny throughout this film. And this would follow the path of a film like How Do You Know except for one thing: Steve Martin can still bring the funny.
Martin may not have his comedic fastball of yore, more of the elder statesmen and a dramatic actor nowadays, but he still has enough comedy chops to completely outshine Jack Black and Owen Wilson at nearly every possibility. It’s kind of baffling how funny he is throughout this film in comparison; he’s given the lesser character in terms of dialogue and story but we still care about him significantly more than either Bostick or Brad. We feel pity for Brad, nothing more, and Bostick is a patently unlikeable character who seemingly lets his obsession ruin his life.
The Big Year in theory could’ve been a remarkably funny film but in actuality isn’t.
Director: David Frenkel Notable Cast: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Brian Dennehey, Anjelica Huston, Dianne West Writer(s): Howard Franklin, based on the novel “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession” by Mark Obmascik
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.