Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Big Year (2011) ***

PG, 100 min.
Director: David Frankel
Writers: Howard Franklin, Mark Obmascik (inspired by the book)
Starring: Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Rosamund Pike, Rashida Jones, Brian Denehey, Dianne Wiest, Kevin Pollack, Joel McHale, JoBeth Williams, Anjelica Huston, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parsons, Barry Shabaka Henley, Anthony Anderson, Steven Webber

“The Big Year” seems like a Hollywood anomaly to me. I think this is the way movies used to be for the public. The movie kind of flew in under the radar last fall even though it contains an all-star cast. What it doesn’t contain is anything that you’d expect from a comedy starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black. It isn’t a formulaic plot that only exists as a clothesline upon which to hang a series of visual gags and fart jokes. It has a genuine story, and it isn’t even all that funny.

Certainly there is some formula to the plot, but it doesn’t come out of a cookie cutter assembly line. Firstly, it involves a pastime that isn’t exactly your typical movie subject matter. It’s about bird watchers, who prefer to call their hobby birding. The Big Year is a North American birding challenge that involves seeing as many species of birds as you can in one year. The three principal players—Martin, Wilson, and Black—are all going for their Big Year.

What sneaks up on you about “The Big Year” is that it has both a heart and a brain. It’s not trying to get a laugh a minute out of you. It’s not even really trying to get anything out of you. It’s just trying to tell an interesting story about these three men. Wilson is obsessed with keeping his title and record as the best birder ever. Martin is trying to figure out the whole coming to terms with the end of your life thing. And, Black is just trying to figure out anything about life. These guys learn their life lessons through their own personal obsessions.

“The Big Year” isn’t really a deep movie, and it doesn’t come to any conclusions that are Earth shattering in their revelatory nature. But, it stays true to its characters and keeps its focus trained on their hearts rather than their actions. It makes for what has become an unusual movie these days. It makes you feel good, rather than assaulted.

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