Men and birds
Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson buoy bird-watching flick
As advertised, The Big Year is a half-serious comedy about three obsessively competitive bird-watchers amusingly played by Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin. Each of the three travels widely in pursuit of a “Big Year”—actual sightings of 700-plus (sometimes very rare) species—while also navigating the domestic and financial dilemmas in their respective personal lives and the treacherous rivalries within their very specialized competitive realm.
Kenny Bostick (Wilson) is a genial weasel more devoted to birding than to his recklessly neglected wife (Rosamund Pike). Brad Harris (Black) is a charmingly clumsy oaf who is divorced and still trying desperately to please his aging parents (Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest). Stu Preissler (Martin) is a hugely successful CEO whose attempts to exchange corporate life for bird-watching and retirement get bemused support from his heroically tolerant wife (JoBeth Williams).
Howard Franklin’s script (adapted from a book by Mark Obmascik) dabbles in topical issues—money madness and a workaholic society, male competitiveness, mid-life crises (premature as well as belated), etc. But the film’s chief appeals reside in its most obvious elements—the three stars cavorting with their respective movie personas; the occasional (and sometimes spectacular) close-up glimpses of exotic birds; the fitful and far-flung bits of scenic travelogue; a large and richly flavored supporting cast.
Nevertheless, even with nice turns from Dennehy, Wiest, Williams, Tim Blake Nelson and (especially) Angelica Huston, the secondary roles remain mere plot machinery.