Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, the best birder in the world. His big year total stands as a record that looks almost impossible to beat, yet he's obsessed with defending his title. What IS a big year? Well, it's when birders (aka birdwatchers) head out to spot as many different species as possible in one year and then hand in their results to see just where they stand amongst their equally dedicated peers. Bostick may be the man to beat, but Brad Harris (Jack Black) thinks he can do it. As does Stu Preissler (Steve Martin). As do many other people. But how much do you have to sacrifice in a year that could lead to spotting over 700 different types of birds? These three men may find that out as they vie for the top spot.
Directed by David Frankel, and written by Howard Franklin (based on/inspired by a book by Mark Obmascik), The Big Year is one of those films that's hard to hate. The gentle humour works well, there are some nice moments that try to showcase individual birds to show just why the birders often view them as something so worthy of pursuit. Of course, it's so predictable and desperate to please that it's also a film that's hard to love. It just stays in a very safe middle ground.
Owen Wilson turns in another performance almost exactly like most of his performances from the last two decades, but Martin plays it pretty straight and Jack Black is surprisingly restrained in his role, making a decent average Joe that viewers should want to see actually succeed at the one goal he seems to have in his life.
The real pleasure here, however, is in the supporting cast. Rosamund Pike plays the long-suffering partner of Wilson, Rashida Jones is a fellow birder who isn't even aiming for her own big year, but is rather just doing it for the pleasure of doing it, Joel McHale and Kevin Pollak are two men trying to keep Martin focused on his successful company while JoBeth Williams is his supportive wife. Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest play Jack Black's parents, and there are small roles for Anthony Anderson, Tim Blake Nelson, Anjelica Huston, Corbin Bernsen and Jim Parsons.
Worth watching if there's nothing else to occupy your time, this is ultimately just a pleasant diversion that allows viewers to observe people who spend their time observing our feathered friends.