What is it that keeps a film just average, as apposed to good, or even great? It was something I was left to ponder as I exited the screening of The Big Year, directed by David Frankel of The Devil Wear Prada and Marley and Me fame. Past experience tells me, I should have left the theater entertained with smartly-timed-understated comedy, and have tears form in my eyes coupled with a lump in my throat. None of these things happened.
That is not to say that The Big Year was a “bad” film, I just had hoped for more from Frankle and the outstanding cast he assembled: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Rashida Jones, Anjelica Huston and Roseamund Pike, all seem to fit and play their roles well, yet the comedy falls flat at times, and the moments that I know Frankle intended to bring tears, simply did not. So what went wrong?
The storyline of the film sounds a bit absurd. Three men, all from different backgrounds: Brad (Black), Kenny (Wilson) and Stu (Martin), are all “birders” (or bird watchers). Each is vying for the number one spot, going after their own “big year.” In laymen’s terms, they each want to be crowned the number one birder, to have recorded the most sightings of different species (of fowl that is) in theNorth America over the course of one year. The nature of the films plot is expansive, as the trio each jump onto a plane, traveling to where the latest rare-bird sighting has occurred. The films storyline dots all over the map, from Alaska, to California, to Florida, making the story expansive, and making it difficult to find those intimate moments of emotion that Frankle is known for.
However, within the framework of the story lies the individual lives of the birders. Brad is a mid thirties divorce, stuck in a job he hates. Kenny finds it difficult to identify himself through anything, but being the worlds best birder, neglecting his wife, Jessica (Pike) who is trying to start a family. And Stu who is taking the leap into retirement after creating a multimillion dollar empire. Frankle does his best to employ his gift of sappy emotion in each of these smaller vinetts, and he almost succeeds several times. I felt a lump in my throat in a particular scene with Stu and his family, a scene where the newest member of the family is introduced to Stu.
The comedy seems to fall in about the same place as the emotion. There are some funny lines, and I found myself laughing at times, but never did that laughter spillover as it should. This is a film starring three of Hollywood’s funniest men; I should be laughing, shouldn’t I? Again, it is the case of a failed story-line. The story is quirky in nature, and could have been brought to the point of absurd humor, but that is not our director’s style. In any case, the funniest cast member is Anjelica Huston, as Annie Auklet. That should tell you something.
While there have been much worse films this year, there have also been better. The Big Year falls short if expectations. Based on the cast and director’s résumés, this film should have hit a homerun, knocking it out of the park. Sadly, it seems that the issue with the film is simply a case of mismatching story with director. The plot far to expansive to meld with Frankle’s brand of comedy with heart.