The Big Year
dir David Frankel
scr Howard Franklin
prd Stuart Cornfeld, Carol Fenelon, Curtis Hanson, Jeffrey Harlacker, Karen Rosenfelt, Ben Stiller
with Jack Black, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Rashida Jones, JoBeth Williams, Rosamund Pike, Brian Dennehy,Dianne Wiest, Anjelica Huston, Kevin Pollak, Joel McHale, Tim Blake Nelson
release US 14.Oct.11, UK 2.Dec.11
11/US Fox 1h40
The Big Year
The great outdoors: Wilson, Martin and Black

jones williams pike
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The Big Year Even though it's rather corny and sentimental, this colourful comedy-drama holds our interest mainly because it's about a subject we'd never imagine watching a film about.

Brad (Black) is a birdwatcher who decides to do a Big Year, seeing as many birds as possible in 12 months, while holding down a full-time job and borrowing against his credit cards. Jetting around the country for rare spottings, he comes up against his record-holding nemesis Kenny (Wilson) as well as Stu (Martin), a corporate big-wig who has taken a year off work to follow his dream. But will their obsession with birding cause problems in their private lives?

The film has a goofy, humorous tone from the start that lets the three central actors get away with rather broad performances that occasionally drift into slapstick. But each one also has a more serious side to his journey, as Brad tries to earn the respect of his dad (Dennehy) and catch the eye of a sexy birder (Jones), Stu makes some important decisions about his future with his loyal wife (Williams), and Kenny tries to help his wife (Pike) conceive a child but keeps getting distracted by his quest to hold onto his record.

Some dark sideplots along the way help overcome the sillier moments. And they also make sure that we don't get bored, because frankly these obsessive nerds are rather ridiculous as they spend vast sums of money chasing elusive birds all over North America just so they can have the satisfaction of being named in the annual Big Year list. It's doesn't much more interesting than trainspotting, really, but at least they get to be outdoors in spectacular scenery most of the time.

Director Frankel makes the most of the settings, capturing the raw natural beauty of each landscape and the sense of achievement when these guts spot another rare species. But of course, in order to turn this into a movie, the script has to crank up both the silly comedy and the sappy melodrama, and each gear-shift causes the movie to lurch awkwardly, reminding us just how dull this competition is for the rest of us.

cert pg themes, language, innuendo 28.Nov.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall