Complete A-Z list

Big Year, The


Stars: Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Brian Dennehy, Anjelica Huston, Rashida Jones, Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, JoBeth Williams, Anthony Anderson, Corbin Bernsen, Harry Shabaka Henley, Joel McHale, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parsons, Kevin Pollak, Nate Torrence

Director: David Frankel

The all-too-obvious description for this mirthless comedy is "for the birds”. So give director David Frankel and writer Howard Franklin their due. They trumped the critics by including the phrase (ironically, I assume, although it’s hard to be certain given the result) in the dialogue spoken by a TV reporter describing the progress of the bird-spotting contest that is at the core of the film.

The movie is “inspired by the” (non-fiction) “book by Mark Obmascik”, but there is precious little inspiration, comic or otherwise, in the final film. “This is a true story”, claim the credits, “Only the facts have been changed”. Which, given the result, must have been a huge relief for Obmascik.

The story is simple, the execution sadly rather simple-minded. Contractor Wilson, whose obsession with bird-watching is destroying his marriage, nerdy computer geek Black and big businessman Martin go up against each other in the Big Year competition in which they race across the USA to see who can spot the most birds in a year.

The contest changes them, of course. It changed me too. No twitcher to start with, I found myself twitching incessantly as the discomfort of having to watch the gluteus-numbing affair drag itself to the end. The end credits were just about the most entertaining aspect of the film although sadly they came far too late to save it.

Given the lack of wit or invention, the performances are flatter than a fried egg. Wilson reprises his trademark charmless (he uses a fake disabled permit to park his car) egoist character. Martin is atypically subdued and bears the look of someone who, like me, looked forward to the end of the affair. And Black, also uncharacteristically quiet, does nothing memorable.

Wiest, Williams and Blake Nelson are wasted, as is Huston, while Dennehy deserves praise keeping awake during his scenes. (Apparently Steve Carrell and Dustin Hoffman were possible players at some point: their gain is our loss).

I did learn one thing, however. In the States, birdwatchers are known as ‘birders’. That said, what was meant as a lark turns out to be a dead duck destined to lay an egg at the box office.

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour by deluxe.
100 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 02 Dec 2011