The Big Year is a quirky comedy with great actors, lessons about friendship and family and mortality, and… IT IS A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE FILM. Don’t get me wrong, your mother might watch this movie and say, “Oh, it was cute.” People in the screening laughed somewhat-heartedly every so often. It is not the worst movie ever made—not by a long shot—but its particular brand of mediocrity is odious.
Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black ought to be ashamed of themselves. Martin went over to the dark side of horribly written scripts with mealy jokes and stereotyped characters—scripts apparently found in a very unfortunate time capsule from 1955—a long time ago, a heartbreaking thing for those of us who revered his early work. Owen Wilson and Jack Black also have demonstrated comedic talent—not as much as Martin, but some. That they’ve all ended up together making family-friendly treacle with lame, tame jokes surrounding bird-watching (it’s one ca-razy hobby!) is somewhat tragic. That Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black all signed on to a script that depicts men as competitors with busy lives and jobs and interests and brains, while the women have (or want to have or already had) babies and remodel the house and go shopping (saying things about how men are just competitive and bound to ignore you by nature—oh well!—WHILE THEY SHOP) and get attacked by birds because they cannot part with their Bergdorf scarves—that’s just sad. Oh, yes, there’s one cute lady bird-watcher (so quirky!), but her cute little list of the birds she’s seen in her entire life is less than the Man Birders have seen in a few months. Oh, and she ends up (spoiler alert!) as Jack Black’s cute new ladyfriend. (She’s Rashida Jones, from The Office, and she probably ought to be ashamed of herself, too, except that what can women do but take the roles that are out there? Thanks, Hollywood.)
Furthermore, The Big Year lies about birds. A title card at the outset reads “This is a true story. Only the facts have been changed” (haw!), which apparently is meant to excuse this, but that’s not going to fly (HAW! Help me!). I’ll leave it to a better birder than I to fact-check all the improbable-sounding ornithological information found here, but in one glaring example, Martin, Wilson, and Black go to catch the ferry to Orcas Island to see a blue-footed booby that’s been spotted there. (High jinks ensue!) The blue-footed booby breeds from the Gulf of California down to Peru, and has been spotted (infrequently) only as far north as Southern California. If there’s a blue-footed booby in the San Juan Islands, this climate change thing is really out of control.
People who like birds, people who like funny jokes, people who like women, and people who like good movies are going to be disappointed with The Big Year. And while I’m pulling for you, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, it doesn’t appear that there’s any going back.