wed 25/11/2020

The Big Year | reviews, news & interviews

The Big Year

The Big Year

Three men in pursuit of birdlife never takes flight

Watch the birdie: Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black as birders in 'The Big Year'

There are times when one marvels that some films ever get the green light; whether it's difficult subject matter, unknown leads or first-time directors, they each have their own, different hurdles to cross with studios more interested in the bottom line than creating art.

There are times when one marvels that some films ever get the green light; whether it's difficult subject matter, unknown leads or first-time directors, they each have their own, different hurdles to cross with studios more interested in the bottom line than creating art. But with a film such as The Big Year, one wonders that it ever got made for different reasons - for despite its A-list stars, a director with a successful track record and an unusual (maybe even unique) storyline, it really is one that should never have got beyond the conference-call stage.

It tells the story of three strangers – Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson – who are what Americans call birders and the British twitchers. They are all doing The Big Year, an attempt to see as many bird species in a calendar year, a highly competitive pastime at which Wilson's Kenny Bostick – much divorced, gaudily dressed and full of himself – is the reigning champion. Martin's Stu Preissler is a businessman trying to retire but who is conflicted between his work, his family and his hobby, while Jack Black is Brad Harris, a thirtysomething drifter for whom The Big Year gives life a much-needed purpose.

The Big Year, written by Howard Franklin and directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me), is based on Mark Obmascik's award-winning non-fiction book of the same title, which tells how the pastime attracts the obsessive, the competitive and the compulsive. What is played out in the film, however, is a rather less gripping, fictionalised story.

There is much jumping into taxis, planes, boats and helicopters as the three men rush off to state parks and storm-ravaged coasts to catch sight of winged visitors and add them to their totals, interspersed with scenes from their home lives. But strangely enough there's no sense of urgency as Frankel's dreary direction makes the film's tone bitty and disjointed, and the underlying message – that the men ultimately discover that what really matters is love, friendship and family – is never properly laid out before us, so we remain resolutely unmoved as Kenny's marriage heads for divorce, Stu becomes a grandad and Brad achieves some resolution of his relationship with his father (Brian Dennehy and Jack Black, pictured above right).

The programme notes boast that the crew and cast visited dozens of stunning locations, but we see annoyingly little of them

Dennehy, as Brad's gruff dad, and Dianne Wiest, as his put-upon mother, offer great support, as does Rosamund Pike as Kenny's birding-widow wife. But she is underused and Dennehy's journey from irascible, uncomprehending parent to birder-in-the-making is too swift (forgive the pun), while Anjelica's Huston turn (sorry again) as a bird-loving boat operator is all too brief.

I'm possibly the ideal demographic for The Big Year: I like all the leads, am a sucker for Hollywood schmaltz and, while I'm not a proper birder, I'm a keen feeder of birds in my garden so understand the joy of being in close proximity to these things of beauty. But I laughed only intermittently, was never moved by the “deeper” scenes about guys who discover What Really Matters in life and became irritated by the dreadful CGI for those scenes where North American birdlife didn't play ball by being in the same place at the same time as the film-makers. The programme notes, by the way, boast that the crew and cast visited dozens of stunning locations, but we see annoyingly little of them. You would think that Frankel would have at least treated us to some great cinematography, but sadly not. The Big Year is a waste of some fine talent, and should have been grounded.

  • The Big Year is on nationwide release from Friday

Watch the trailer for The Big Year


Frankel's dreary direction makes the film's tone bitty and disjointed

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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