Monday, October 17, 2011
In the past director David Frankel has proved himself an adept cinematic journeyman who crafts solid entertainments with heart. In THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA he had the riveting Meryl Streep to energize the proceedings, and with MARLEY & ME he had, well, an adorable dog. So the pleasures should be threefold with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson headlining THE BIG YEAR. Sadly, that is far from the case. The film follows a trio of avid bird watchers (or birders, as they prefer to be called) during the course of a Big Year, a calendar year in which birders catalogue on the honor system every species of bird they spot or hear. Martin plays Stu, a business owner escaping the rigors of his demanding job. Office drone Brad (Black) seeks meaning in breaking the Big Year record. His unfocused career reaps financial support from his mother (the delightful Dianne Wiest) and skepticism from his father (the gruff Brian Dennehy). Meanwhile Bostick (Wilson), a competitive birder who holds the elusive record, works as a contractor when he isn’t abandoning his wife Jessica (an appealing Rosamund Pike) for his ornithological obsession. Black is completely miscast, and Brad’s perfunctory romance with fellow birder Ellie (Rashida Jones) is as convenient and as it is unlikely. But for his few scenes with the underused JoBeth Williams, a better-cast Martin comes off as preoccupied rather than present. The amiable Wilson fares best, but even he seems constrained. Frankel’s pacing is brisk but devoid of energy, like the condensed version of a film that lacks detail and color. However, if all things avian fascinate you, Howard Franklin’s genial, risk-averse script (inspired by Mark Obmascik’s non-fiction book) may provide 90 minutes of diversion. The rest of us, however, will watch the unfolding film dissipate like morning mist until there’s no memory of what was just seen. We feel neither offense nor engagement, merely a sense of befuddlement and lethargy.