The Big Year (2011) happens to be one of those films that seem to be utterly forgettable, even when it was recently released. I ran across the DVD of this at the library and went, ‘huh… they actually released a movie with Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson together? Must have been recent…’. Then I found out it was released in 2011, and I definitely don’t even remember hearing anything about this movie ever. But I’ll always take a risk on a movie that has Steve Martin in it, much less Owen Wilson. Jack Black’s had too many misses for me to consider any of his films chance-able without research. Directed by David Frankel, whose name doesn’t ring a bell. What are Frankel’s other well-known movies? The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me. Sappy movies, but entertaining.
The introduction of the movie begins playing. It’s a movie… about bird-watching. Seriously? Yup. It is.
The unbelievable part is that it’s actually a pretty credible job of presenting the hobby, to the point where I actually felt like grabbing some binoculars, finding a fresh Field Notes notebook and going out to start bird-watching on my own. Back to reality, the movie proceeds to explain that a ‘Big Year’ is when a birder attempts to spot/identify as many species of birds as they possibly can in one full calendar year.
Wilson plays the ruthless record-holder, while Black is a corporate drone that is about to quit his unfulfilling job in order to pursue his dream of a year-long sabbatical to chase Wilson’s record. Martin plays a corporate CEO who is finally taking a year off after years of working at his company – he finally retires and seizes the opportunity to chase his own Big Year.
Typical hijinks ensue as in all ridiculous competitions. This doesn’t rise to the level of Balls of Fury or Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but it’s still entertaining and that’s what we want from a comedy anyway. It’s overblown and understated at the same time, although some of my favorite moments were when the actors expressing their exuberance for their rising bird-spotting counts, complete with spinning counter graphics. It’s basically a popcorn movie that entertains. And that’s okay. We need those movies. Just like how sometimes we can’t take reading another classic book so we read the latest fast-paced thriller by Dan Brown or bone-tingling horror novel from Stephen King as a change of pace.
I enjoyed this movie – it is what it is and doesn’t try to do more than that. It won’t become a cult movie, except possibly amongst Audubon members. It won’t join my vast movie library. And I won’t seek it out, although I wouldn’t mind watching it on cable again someday. That’s probably The Big Year‘s ultimate fate – being a selection on Netflix or TBS late-night that you won’t mind stopping the dial on and watching this movie on the television.
In the end, it’s basically an odd-pair buddy-buddy versus baddy film in which Black and Martin’s characters pair up and square off against Wilson’s “baddy” character. Definitely not the greatest entry in the canon of buddy films, but not the worst either. Being middle of the pack means that there’s not anything to truly distinguish this movie, and nothing you’ll miss if you never watch this film.
MPAA Rating: PG