Saturday, November 29, 2014


Directed By: David Frankel 
Written By: Howard Franklin 
Based on the book THE BIG YEAR: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession" By: Mark Obmascik 
Cinematography By: Lawrence Sher 
Editor: Mark Livolsi 

Cast: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Rashida Jones, John Cleese, Kevin Pollack, JoBeth Williams, Rosamund Pike, Angelica Huston, Barry Shabaka Henley, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Anderson, Joel McHale, Jim Parsons, Brian Dennehy, Tim Blake Nelson, June Sqibb

In birding, a Big Year is seeing or hearing as many different species of birds as possible in a calendar year. Three men pursue the Birder of the Year title: Kenny Bostick, who's seen a record 732 in a past big year, Stu Preissler, newly retired, and Brad Harris, who narrates the story. Life gets in the way: Bostick's wife wants a baby, Stu's firm needs him for sensitive negotiations, and Brad, divorced and underemployed at 36, has an encouraging mom and a disapproving dad. They criss-cross the continent (including a trip to Alaska's westernmost island), follow migration patterns, and head for storms that force birds to ground. Who will win, at what cost, and with what rewards?

It's shocking that this movie is an all star extravaganza. It also has 3 top comedy stars in it and it's about bird watching.

The film is very subdued from what one would expect. It has light comedy and a gentle touch, but at times soars to drama. As it tries to feel realistic. It's not a subtle look at its subject ala Christopher Guest films like WAITING FOR GUFFMAN or BEST IN SHOW. No it just follows these 3 characters as they each have a big year. Where they follow different species of birds all around he world to be the person who identifies the most species in a year.

Considering the cast and even the subject matter this could have Been a broad comedy that was all over the place yet specific in terms of the subject. What we get here challenges the audiences expectations. We get more dramatic turns then wacky ones.

The film is a feel good somewhat predictable film which may manipulate your emotions. The way the film is done and played you would think it was based on a true story.

I can say it's a missed opportunity having these comedy stars in the film does garner more interest in the film rather than some no names. And having the stars give more honest, heartfelt grounded performances. Which offer little hilarity or comedy. At least intentionally, in fact that might be what drew then to the film. The chance to play more rounded characters rooted in reality.

Along the way each of them learns something about themselves.

Owen Wilson lets the competition get the better of him as it hits home what he is risking just to be the best with no short cuts. Truly giving us a look at a character who is an overachiever and overly competitive.

Steve Martin as a retiree learns about life and how fleeting it can be and to enjoy or while you can and do what you can while you have the time. He even wrote much of the music in his 2011 album,"Rare Bird Alert" (Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers) while on the set for this movie.

Jack Black as a down and out character, learns about love, self respect, confidence and finds out how to get back in his feet. He is more subdued here, Not seeming to have a need to perform. He actually comes across as normal and human. Managing to touch the audience with his plight. He is actually one of the things that is most enjoyable about the film. He doesn't overplay the role nor try to sell and endear his character to the audience. Especially by sharing too many of his emotions.

They all are natural in their roles and play to their strengths.

Steve Carell and Dustin Hoffman were both attached to star at one point.

Let's face it this is an easy film for the leads. Nothing is too much a change of pace for any of them. They have great interplay and would love to see them all together again in a better film.

The film reeks of high culture. It provides an interesting look at a subject that comes across as dull. The film has a way of disarming the audience. As it seems aiming for a more refined quality.

Though it is easily apparent why the film bombed. It looks made to appeal to an older audience. The film isn't horrible, but it lacks a certain authenticity it feels hollow and false unlike the characters, nothing here feels earned. It just happens to make a good story.

The film is watchable and a time waster, but it feels like it is aiming at pleasing you rather then telling a good story or being memorable.

Grade: C+

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