If you read the reviews for The Big Year, you’ll see words like “quaint” or “charming” used regularly, though—in this case—this seems to translate into regular English as “dreadfully dull.” Don’t get me wrong, the film has its heart in the right place and it’s perfectly harmless entertainment, but in the end The Big Year is still a pseudo-comedy about birdwatching. I’m trying to figure out who exactly this movie was made for. Looking at its paltry box-office numbers, the answer might be no one.
The film explains that in birdwatching jargon a “big year” is an attempt to see the as many different birds as possible within a calendar year. Going for this big year, we get: master birdwatcher and worldclass jerk—Kenny (Owen Wilson); über-rich retiree Stu (Steve Martin); and general muck-up-with-a-heart-of-gold Brad (Jack Black). Much of the film revolves competition between the three to see who can have the biggest “big year.” But don’t expect the gut-busting laughs promised in the trailer, since—beyond a few extraneous Jack Black pratfalls—the film’s real purpose is to show the true meaning of birdwatching in all its heartfelt glory. This means lots of life lessons, and schmaltz so thick it’s practically oozing off the screen.
I suppose there’s a whimsical enough movie that could be made about birdwatching, but The Big Year isn’t it. It’s not that the film’s leads are necessarily bad, or that David Frankel’s direction is inherently faulty. It’s more that Frankel—like his last foray into animal-related sentimentality, Marley & Me (2008)—has the sole concern of clawing at your heartstrings. Unfortunately, the film lacks anything like an emotional center around which that kind of response could be built. In place of that kind of resonance, we have little more than an overly sincere tone, characters that are completely one-dimensional, and a doe-eyed Jack Black narration.
The Big Year’s toothless premise and lackluster script make for nothing more than cloying, grade-A pap. While I can’t think of anything the film specifically does wrong, it certainly does nothing right. How fitting that this film about birdwatching turns out to be a complete turkey. Rated PG for language and some sensuality.