A BIG YEAR Movie Review
A BIG YEAR is a movie about competitive birding, which is not to be confused with birdwatching, though, after seeing the movie I’m still a little confused about the difference. As a film-strip style explanation at the start of the movie lays it out, birders want to spot different birds out of some kind of avian appreciation. And some of the more competitive birders attempt to do a big year, a competition to see as many different kind of birds in north america in one year as possible. Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson take up this challenge, and their charm and overall ability to light up a screen just barely saves this movie from its concept, which was inexplicably green-lit as a premise the American public would lap up.
The actors stick to type for the most part, with Martin as the aging family man (his post Cheaper by the Dozen type at least), Black as a directionless man approaching middle age, a little softer than he normally plays, while Wilson plays the rich jerk, but not such a jerk that he lacks all integrity. And they all embark on a cross-continent journey to keep their bird counts up, all of which are reported on an honor system, which seems to take a lot of the tension out of it. How can you really be sure no one will cheat?
The heart of the movie isn’t the feathered quest as much as the trios’ home stories. Martin’s is the most cliche, the hardworking businessman being pressured to put off retirement, and thus time with his family for the good of the company. The writers did nothing to change this trope, and the appearance of Joel McHale as a business flunky with absolutely no funny lines seems to take away any energy those scenes had.
Black’s plot is a little more interesting, aloud a love interest and some interesting father-son issues.
The most captivating subplot is between Wilson and his wife, who we learn early on is the latest in a line of spouses who’d previously run off because of his devotion to birding rather than his wife. His wife isn’t just feeling neglected as his spouse, but feels her efforts at getting pregnant using fertility treatments are getting short changed every time he runs after another owl.
The movie lacks many laugh out loud moments, which is pretty impressive considering its actor roster. I didn’t walk out of the theater wishing I could get the last hour and a half of my life back, but when asked by a friend how it was, all I could muster was an apathetic “eh.”