Monday, December 6, 2010

The Big Year (private screening)

This is a unique circumstance. Last Tuesday (November 30th), Andrea invited me to an advance screening of the forthcoming Steve Martin film The Big Year. I like Steve Martin as much as the next guy, but one has to admit that it's been awhile since he's made anything that matches with his classic comedies. Still, he's surrounded by an awesome cast in this movie: Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, Anjelica Huston, and Kevin Pollak, to name but a few. I figured it'd be worth a look for free. Therefore, this will be more of an actual review than my usual posts. (The on-set picture below is from the site The Frat Pack.)

The Big Year is based on a non-fiction book about competitive bird watching over the course of a single year. The film version must be a fictionalized version inspired by the actual events, then, since the names of the three primary characters were changed. I certainly didn't realize the movie was based on a true story, and I doubt Andrea did either. Not that it made a difference.

We saw the movie in a screening room at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo. According to the invite, the doors would open at seven and the show would start at eight. We took our time getting down there, even though the weather wasn't the greatest that day (Andrea likes long walks at least as much as I do, if not more). There was a line outside the hotel and we got on it, only to hear from others on the line that there were no more seats! We asked the two women in front of us if this was true; they weren't sure, because they'd arrived earlier and were told to come back later.

So some dude came outside and the two women addressed him, because they were naturally pretty upset. Andrea, whom, I've learned in the short time I've known her, is quite a quick thinker when the situation calls for it, stepped in and helped argue their case as if all four of us were together, and sure enough, the dude moved all four of us to the front of the line, though he didn't let us in yet. So we talked among ourselves a bit while we were waiting, and eventually the guy came back and led us inside. (Don't ask me what happened with the other people in line. The only reason I suspect this even worked is that those two women said they'd been told to come back later and Andrea made him think we were with them. Like I said, quick thinker.)

So eventually we got to see the movie, after some more waiting. It's not terrible, but I didn't find it particularly funny either. A movie like this, with a big cast and a comedic touch, needed a Christopher-Guest-mockumentary approach. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I wish Guest had made this movie instead. He would've made much better use of the comedic talents on display here. Kevin Pollak is in this movie and he's not funny! That should never happen. Huston has the best of the secondary roles, playing the skipper of a ship who has a grudge against Wilson's character, and while she gets some good mileage out of the role, even she doesn't come alive as much as she should.

The most impressive stuff in The Big Year, I thought, was the location shots and the bird-related material. There's one brief moment where we see two eagles mating in mid-air, which is a breathtaking sight, but I suspect it and similar bird shots were taken from stock footage and not made specifically for this movie. In fairness, we were told that this was still a work in progress.

The movie isn't silly enough. There are times where I felt it wants to be, but it doesn't go for that level of comedy. It's very middle-of-the-road. Maybe that's because this was inspired by a true story; I dunno. But when you've got comedic actors on the level of Martin, a living legend, and Black, who can be playful and wacky in the right role, you really need to let them do their thing.
I wish I'd thought to write all this in the survey cards they gave us after the movie. I mostly wrote about the location shots and Anjelica Huston.

The Big Year should come out sometime next year. I suppose fans of the book will like it more than I did. Has anybody out there read the book? If it's good, maybe I'll read it.


  1. Yeah, read the book!

  2. I definitely liked the movie more than you did, Rich. There were times I laughed aloud (when you didn't seem very amused), which is why I'd take exception to your statement that the movie's not that funny.

    Steve Martin impressed me most: He's great at displaying both a comedic side and a sweet side at the same time. I always find him enjoyable on the screen. And I was glad that Jack Black toned down his silliness for the film. He's usually too inane for me, but here he presented a sweet side, as well. In fact, he and Owen Wilson both restrained themselves admirably, as they've tended to portray horridly obnoxious characters in other vehicles. (Wilson's character in this film is only mildly obnoxious and more clever than usual.)

    I agree with you that the scenery is beautifully photographed, and the footage of birds in the wild, often breathtaking. I'd even add that the narrator's voice and commentary are quite amusing. And this is definitely a novel topic, portrayed in a refreshingly original way.

    In the end, I wasn't too worried that we'd be able to talk our way into the preview. After all, a little birdie told me we'd be successful. :)

  3. Comedy's a tough thing to gauge. What's funny for one guy might not be funny for somebody else. I know you enjoyed it, and I'm glad you did, and I'm glad you invited me.

  4. Absolutely read the book. It will definitely be worth it, and the movie might make a little more sense to you then.

  5. The movie made sense to me; I just didn't find it that funny. But thanks for the recommendation.

  6. The story isn't that funny, if by funny you mean in-your-face comic slapstick. It is an amusing narrative about an intellectually quirky side of life. From what I understand, the movie is suppose to be a fairly sincere (if not historically accurate)rendition of the real thing. To do anything less would be insulting, not only to the author of the book and the characters that it is about, but to many birders as well. I'm really looking forward to it, especially now that I know it's not just some tasteless lampoon on birders, which I was afraid it was going to be. By the way, the eagles were really there. It was the first time Steve Martin had ever seen wild Bald Eagles. He told the story in an interview. He was amazed.

  7. I would not call this movie tasteless at all. Steve Martin's brand of humor has always had a great deal of heart and warmth to it. I think birders will appreciate this movie for what it is.

    Nice to know that those eagle shots was for the movie and not stock footage.

  8. I'm a casual birder and I've read the book and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.
    But I'm sure there will be a lot of people who go see it expecting to see an over-the-top comedy because of Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson and will be disappointed.
    It IS a funny story, but it's not the kind of humor that pop culture appreciates. With no guns, car chases, scantily clad women, men getting hit in the gonads, or potty humour, I'm shocked the book was even published, let alone a movie made out of it!
    I'll be suprised if it does well at the box office, but if it's as good as the book, I'll buy the DVD!

  9. I think marketing will be key. If they make it look like an R-rated Judd Apatow-like comedy, they'll have problems.


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