By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin October 14, 2011 at 4:32AM
The Big Year is a star-driven comedy, led by Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black, with an unusual premise about three dedicated “birders” and their competitive attempt to track as many species as possible during a calendar year. But the film itself qualifies as a rara avis: a benign, good-hearted movie about three disparate characters’ search for happiness. The fact that it’s rated PG, and yet is intended for adult audiences, should tell you something about—
—the movie’s nature.
Howard Franklin’s screenplay, inspired by Mark Obmascik’s book, dodges stereotypes and cheap gags as it paints a picture of three men who couldn’t be more different. Martin is a wealthy, happily married executive on the verge of retirement. His colleagues beg him to stay on and steer their company at a crucial crossroads. Wilson is successful, too, in the construction field, but his wife (Rosamund Pike) is less forgiving than Martin’s about his absentee role in their marriage. Black is a divorced working stiff who needs his parents’ financial support, and his boss’ understanding, in order to take time off to travel to far-flung places during his “big year” of birding.
The Big Year is the kind of film that sneaks up on you. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first, and at some point my interest began to wane…then the film circled around and got to me. I think it was when the filmmakers tipped their hand that the movie is less about birding than it is about finding contentment, no matter where you are on life’s journey.
Colorful scenery and an equally colorful supporting cast (including Anjelica Huston as a cantankerous fishing-boat skipper) make this an appealing and attractive experience. The Big Year will probably be a tough sell to those all-important opening weekend moviegoers, but if it sticks around long enough, I suspect word of mouth will keep it aloft for quite some time.