Blu-ray Review: Remarkably Talented Ensemble Gets Small in ‘The Big Year’

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CHICAGO – Given the wacky nature of Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin in their family comedies and the tendency of all three talented actors to over-act, people will probably be surprised at how generally-subdued their collaboration on “The Big Year” ended up. In fact, while the movie is genial and good-natured, it’s also surprisingly dull. The characters never resonate beyond their descriptions - rookie, veteran, and the jerk in between. So, while the filmmakers deserve credit for not injecting the proceedings with gross-out humor, they needed to inject it with something to bring it to life. Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

A vast majority of “The Big Year” is made up of the three protagonists denying they’re actually “doing a big year.” It creates a stunning lack of actual tension. It’s not just that the title refers to something somewhat intangible for most people — seeing more birds than anyone else in a single year…yes, I said birds — but that the filmmakers, particularly writer Howard Franklin and director David Frankel (“Marley & Me”), don’t do enough to make it connect. Believe it or not, “The Big Year” has a lot in common with “Moneyball” in that both films are essentially lessons on valuing the race as much as the result. It’s a tough theme to present in film. Let’s just say, you’ll appreciate “Moneyball” even more.

The Big Year was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 31, 2012
The Big Year was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 31, 2012
Photo credit: Fox

“The Big Year” follows three people on their quest to topple the record of 732 bird sightings in a single year. There’s the man who set the record, the egotistical and a bit slimy Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), the newcomer Brad Harris (Jack Black), and the veteran Stu Preissler (Steve Martin). The film might have worked if it focused solely on these three differing personalities on charter planes to the edge of the globe but Franklin clutters the piece with supporting characters almost as if he’s trying to distract you from thinking “is this movie just about bird-watching?”

The Big Year was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 31, 2012
The Big Year was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 31, 2012
Photo credit: Sony

So, we first get Bostick’s put-upon wife, played by the lovely Rosamund Pike, a woman who it is nearly impossible to believe anyone would leave for any reason, much less breaking their own bird-watching record. Of course, if Bostick has a wife he should pay attention to then the other two bird watchers need homelife distractions as well. Stu ignores the co-workers (Joel McHale & Kevin Pollak) who want him to climb the corporate ladder with them and don’t understand his new hobby while Brad brings a supportive mother (Dianne Wiest) and doubting father (Brian Dennehy) to the party.

Enough characters for you? We’re just getting started. The lovely Rashida Jones plays a love interested for Black. Great character actors like Tim Blake Nelson and Barry Shabaka Henley pop up as fellow bird watchers. JoBeth Williams plays Stu’s wife. Anjelica Huston (!!!) has a cameo. John Cleese narrates. It’s an AMAZING cast. Given nothing to do.

Watching Jones do bird sounds as a sort of flirtation scene with Black is just bizarre. It feels neither genuine nor interesting enough to be in a movie. “The Big Year” falls deep into that uncanny valley between realism and Hollywood-ism, where movies go to die. It all comes down to a quest for an owl while marriages are falling apart and old men are dying and the business opportunity of a lifetime seems to be getting away. At this point, we need to have a desired outcome — should we want Kenny to go back to his wife? Should we want Brad to stick with his ailing dad? And so on. None of these questions have any weight. It all just flies away.

Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson form “a comic dream team” (Jeff Craig, Sixty Second Preview) in this smart, funny comedy from the director of The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me.

Looking to shake up their routine lives, three amateur bird watchers compete to become the ultimate “birder” by spotting the greatest number of species within a single calendar year. But the friendly rivalry soon turns into a hilariously complicated cross-country adventure as each man begins to realize that the quest for success comes at a price - and that’s not chicken feed!

Special Features:
o Deleted Scenes
o Gag Reel
o The Big Migration
o BD Live Enabled with Live Lookup
o Digital Copy Of Feature Film

“The Big Year” stars Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Rosamund Pike, Kevin Pollak, Joel McHale, JoBeth Williams, Dianne Wiest, Brian Dennehy, Rashida Jones, and Anjelica Huston. It was written by Howard Franklin and directed by David Frankel. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 31st, 2012. content director Brian Tallerico

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