In the spirit of its bird-watching subject, The Big Year populates countless scenes with notable faces—Dianne Wiest! Brian Dennehy! Jim Parsons! Rashida Jones! Joel McHale! Corbin Bernsen?—and yet despite such stargazing, which also extends to its leads Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, The Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel’s film is a severely dim affair. This story of three strangers (Martin, Black and Wilson) competing in the titular contest to spot the most North American birds is a sitcom-y series of bumpy plane flights, nauseating helicopter jaunts, and seasick boat rides, interspersed with the occasional pratfall from Black. There isn’t a single laugh; Frankel fills that void with copious amounts of bathos, as the three protagonists eventually find themselves, in one squishy way or another, compelled over the course of their 365-day odyssey to confront the preeminent value of friendship, love and family. Failing even to attempt genuinely humorous gags or scenarios, and incapable of conveying the thrill of its obsessive pastime or the majesty of the animals themselves, this feel-good male weepie remains comedically and dramatically grounded.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 19, 2011