Isn’t bird watching, or what the characters in “The Big Year” refer to as ‘birding’, supposed to be a relaxing hobby? Apparently not, as the three main characters run across the country, trying to outdo each other in the number of different species they can photograph or view through binoculars within 365 days. This crazed dedication of time is actually referred to as a ‘big year’-hence the title of the film. And just like its characters, “The Big Year” moves really fast at first, but when it finally slows down, it finds a wonderful groove.
Jack Black plays Brad Harris, and provides most of the narration to the film. When the film begins, Black seems to be reading the narration like he has somewhere to be. Literally, credits have never appeared and disappeared onscreen so fast before. The film zips between Harris, Stu Preissler(Steve Martin), and Kenny Bostick(Owen Wilson), introducing them as though there will be three hours of their story to tell but only two hours to do it in. Honestly, it’s sort of laughable, and at that point it would make sense why the film seems to be quietly sinking at the box office.
However, the film finally slows down a bit when Brad and Stu have dinner together, and the viewer actually has time to get to know the characters, much like Brad and Stu do while the dinner scene plays out. Bostick holds the record for over 700 species in the previous year, and Brad and Stu are trying to top him while he tries to keep his title. Stu is a recent retiree from a highly successful company that he built from the ground up, and Brad is a jobless thirty-six year-old looking to do something great. “The Big Year” is a rare comedy where all of the main characters happen to be extremely likeable, and nobody is forced to play the fool. While Jack Black does his share of the falling-down slapstick, the screenplay gives him his fair share of genuine laughs through smart dialogue.
Another surprise that “The Big Year” offers is its extensive supporting cast, featuring some pretty big names. Kevin Pollak, Joel McHale, Anjelica Huston, Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, and even Brian Dennehy all propel the film forward, and that’s not even listing all the famous names involved. The film is directed by David Frankel, who has had much success with his previous films “Marley & Me” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” The pre-show entertainment before the screening this reviewer attended was geared toward the younger crowd, and it is certainly feasible that “The Big Year” would make a fine family film. It is rated PG, and is a smart film that is void of smart-mouth wisecrackers and hollow stereotypes. At the front of the line, Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson are leading the charge. The obvious question would be what is missing? Not sure about that, but whoever skips out on seeing “The Big Year” is definitely missing out.
“The Big Year” is currently playing at the Regal Cinemas Showplace 16 in Crystal Lake, but may be gone by Friday.