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The Big Year - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Big Year
Directing: C+
Acting: B
Writing: C
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

Non-Hollywood types (or anti-Hollywood types) might wonder how script writer Howard Franklin sleeps at night. The answer: quite comfortably, probably. He got paid, presumably. And he got paid for turning in a script that feels like something written by committee, even though he enjoys the sole writing credit for The Big Year. Either he took cues from test audience feedback and completely short-sighted film studio executives, or he's just a born Hollywood player. Because even though The Big Year features an ostensibly unique movie concept -- competitive birding -- it could hardly be any more cloying and clichéd.

Now, there's a wide divide between the audience this movie might work for and the audience it might not. For the latter, ironically, it would be real-life birders -- such as the friend with whom I saw the movie. I learn from him that the script gets all kinds of simple things wrong, from where certain species of bird could possibly be seen to how impressive a certain bird sighting might be. Said friend also read the book on which the film is based, which was a true story, and apparently bore only a passing resemblance to this movie. Indeed, the title card at the beginning tells us that this is a true story, except for the facts that were changed. A little bit of Steve Martin-style humor there. Honestly, that was possibly the funniest part of the whole movie. That doesn't say much for it.

Not that The Big Year is terrible, mind you. It's just . . . okay. It garners very few genuine laughs, but will still easily entertain any elderly couch potato who might eventually catch it on TBS. I bet my grandfather would get sucked right into it. Hell, even my dad -- who enjoys a bit of birding himself -- would probably find it at least moderately enjoyable. Evidently genuinely invested and experienced birders are likely to be very frustrated by the factual inaccuracies regarding bird species themselves. Whatever. Either way, this movie isn't going to be any smash hit.

Instead, it barely falls short of being a total misfire. In the "version" of real-life events presented here, we find a record-holder (Owen Wilson), a wealthy CEO bent on finally retiring really for sure this time (Steve Martin), and a 36-year-old divorcée who lives with his parents (Jack Black) all competing in The Big Year, which is a full year of competing to either see or hear the highest number of bird species. This is a real thing, you must understand, and in reality, as in the movie, it works on the honor system: there's no system for verification that these people are telling the truth. This isn't exactly nail-biting stuff.

Because this is Hollywood, each of these three guys have to have some kind of conflict in the movie. Jack Black has a tenuous relationship with a disapproving dad (Biran Dennehy), although he turns out to have a surprisingly supportive mother (Diane Wiest). Owen Wilson is so obsessed with holding his record that he keeps abandoning his biological clock-ticking wife (Rosamund Pike) who is literally in the midst of taking fertility treatments. And Steve Martin keeps getting pulled back to New York by work associates (Kevin Pollak and The Soup's Joe McHale) who are trying to rope him into participating in deal negotiations. And that's not even the end of the parade of recognizable faces dotting the landscape in this movie, all but taking the focus completely away from the actual birds: Anjelica Huston as a birding boat tour guide; The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons as a birding blogger; The Office's Rashida Jones as Jack Black's completely unnecessary love interest; even Al Roker pops up in a cameo, among others. Either all of these stars were enamored with a far superior early draft of the script, or they were blinded by their love of birding (are there really that many birders in Hollywood?) that they lost sight of how disposable this movie ultimately is.

That said, Martin, Wilson, and even Jack Black each have their unique brand of charisma, bland as it's rendered in each case here. It's really because of them that this movie is tolerable, when it comes down to it. Sure, it's cloying and predictable, but I've seen far worse. This is very run-of-the-mill stuff that could have been way, way better in more capable hands, but since I only paid $6 for my matinee ticket, I don't really feel like my time was completely wasted. Granted, that's only barely, but still. The three stars each have winning personalities, which were maybe put to misguided use here (and Jack Black, who is more talented than most of his body of work would usually indicate, is constantly put to misguided use), and at least that keeps the movie from being a total bore.

Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson turn THE BIG YEAR into treacly Hollywood tripe.

Overall: B-
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