Road Comedy Recounts 1998 Bird-Watching Contest
Brad Harris (Jack Black) is an unemployed slacker who moved back in with his parents (Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest) after getting a divorce and dropping out of graduate school. Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) is a roofer whose hard-to-impregnate spouse (Rosamund Pike) is impatient to have a baby. And Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is a recently-retired CEO whose business partners have been begging him to come back to the company. These strangers’ paths probably would never have crossed had they not shared an obsession with bird watching. But in 1998, all three opted to enter an annual tournament in which participants compete to spot the most species in North America over the course of a calendar year.
Loosely-based on Mark Obmascik’s best-seller of the same name, The Big Year is a buddy comedy which recounts their spirited contest for the coveted crown while simultaneously highlighting the toll the time-consuming endeavor took on each of the protagonist’s personal lives. After all, such an undertaking involves being away from home for long stretches at a time.
Directed by Oscar-winner David Frankel (for Dear Diary), The Big Year is just funny enough to warrant this critic’s stamp of approval, even if the awkward puns, silly sight gags and pithy dialogue seem a tad forced for a cast stocked with so many seasoned comics. The production suffers from the choice of the over-the-top Jack Black as its omniscient narrator, when either Steve Martin or Owen Wilson’s relatively-droll delivery would’ve been far better suited to the story’s subtle brand of humor.
Another slight flaw is the script’s lack of tension surrounding the outcome of the contest which is not only run on the honor system but allows the entrants to keep their mounting bird counts confidential. Consequently, the character-driven adventure has the audience caring less about the winner than whether these peripatetic, decadent divas will exhibit a sense of family responsibility and return from the road when duty calls, whether it’s Brad’s father suffering a heart attack, Stu becoming a grandfather for the first time, or Kenny’s ovulating wife calling from a fertility clinic.
Still, when at its best, The Big Year devotes itself to the visually-captivating treat of displaying dozens of rare, winged creatures, ranging from the Black-footed Albatross to the Great Spotted Woodpecker to the Pink-footed Goose, either in flight or right in their natural habitats. An ornithological delight designed with the bird fancier in mind!
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG for profanity and some sensuality.
Running time: 100 Minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
To see a trailer for The Big Year, visit: