After directing the 2008 comedy “Marley and Me,” David Frankel continues his work with animals (and Owen Wilson) in “The Big Year,” an insubstantial dramatic comedy about birds and birdwatchers.
“The Big Year” is loosely based on a real-life competition in which birdwatchers, or birders, attempt to see as many bird species as possible in a geographical location in a calendar year. Frankel’s fictional adaptation follows three birdwatchers who race against one another to achieve a record-breaking “biggest year.” Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), the current record holder, Stu Preissler (Steve Martin),
a wealthy CEO nearing retirement, and Brad Harris (Jack Black), a grad school dropout, explore their passion for birds and come into conflict with one another at birdwatching hot spots around the world.
Rather than showing Harris and Preissler’s growing friendship through scenes of them spending time together, Frankel develops the relationship with an extended monologue from Harris that doesn’t effectively portray the bond they share. While eating at a restaurant, Harris says how close he and Preissler have
become, but that deep relationship is hardly depicted. Even when they decide to put aside the personal glory they’ve been working for and team up for a better shot at winning the competition, their connection is unconvincing. The use of narration to develop the characters at the beginning of the film makes the story difficult to follow.
As the men get further into the competition, the specimens they search for become more rare and Frankel begins using the birds’ strange habits to represent human characteristics. After
being inspired by the courtship dance between bald eagles, Harris finally builds up the courage to pursue the woman he’s attracted to. This simple story-telling device helps create a connection
between the character’s personal lives and the competition, making the birders only remotely interesting as individuals.
“The Big Year” boasts a quirky premise and an A-list comedy cast, but fails to soar after its rough take-off.
“The Big Year” was directed by David Frankel and written by Howard Franklin and Mark Obmascik.