Review: The Big Year

Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black in The Big Year.

Living by the birds

Rating: ***

The Big Year is about a group of people with messy lives who travel America in search of birds. These people are referred to as birders and not birdwatchers. Birding is a sport that includes taking a picture of every bird you find, so that the judges know how many you’ve seen. Big year is a contest where birders have one year to do all their birding and in the end, the one with the highest number gets a trophy and exclusive interviews with notable American magazines such as Rolling Stones and Vanity Fair.

The film stars Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson – three contemporary comedians armed with wacky one-liners that keep you entertained. All these characters live shallow lives.

Martin is a millionaire who runs a successful company full of nuts that cannot make decisions on their own. Hence, his employees follow him everywhere for advice.  Jack Black is employed in a 9-to-5 job that he hates to the core. His father chides his interest in birding while his mother (Dianne Wiest) discovers his aim to be the best at it. Owen Wilson’s character Kenny Bostick is a three-time winner and current record holder. This sets the bar for Black and Martin as they team up to beat him.

Bostick’s marriage is shattered due to his birding obsession. His annoyed wife (played by the ever-lovely Rosamund Pike), continuously rants that he prefers birds over sex. He later corrects her, saying “It’s not about the birds. It’s about being number one.”

Over the course of the film, several life-changing events take place. For instance, Black’s character Brad Harris meets a fellow bird enthusiast, Ellie (Rashida Jones), with whom he falls in love with.

David Frankel is no stranger to comedies. He has worked with Wilson in Marley & Me, and has direct Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. He shows off his expertise by letting his actors improvise scenes. It’s no mystery that Black and Martin are used to improvising their lines. The film also stars Anjelica Huston and Jim Parsons in roles that really didn’t need popular faces. They could have done that scene with B-list stars.

Comedies generally portray characters that rediscover themselves in the turn of events. The Big Year is no different from them.  

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Review: Midnight in Paris

Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris.

Allen’s finest since Annie Hall

Rating: ****

Every writer adores Paris. There’s something magical about the city. It’s mainly the history the place holds on to. The game changers of English literature lived there and feasted life. Woody Allen would have been a proud member if only he could travel back in time. Hence, he brings forth Midnight in Paris, a fantasy rom-com about a novelist-turned-screenwriter who visits Paris in the Golden Era.

“We’re on vacation here” announces his tired fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams). But, Gil is in the Parisian trance and cannot bear the tirade she pulls on him. Her parents dislike him thoroughly. Her mother says “there’s a part of him missing” while her father blatantly announces “he’s weird.” During one of their dinners, Inez meets her old friend Paul Bates (Michael Sheen), who in Gil’s own words “is pseudo-analytical”. Indeed. Paul disagrees with the historical information given by a tour guide (played by French first lady Carla Bruni). He even rejects a correction Gil makes at a painting by Picasso.

Allen somehow brings the terse drama within the first fifteen minutes and then, he transports a drunken Gil to the 1920s, where he meets his idols, interacts with them, and changes the lives of a few. These idols include Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Tom Eliot and Salvador Dali. It’s wonderful that Allen has written these historical legends just the way they were. Scott was in love with Zelda and knew it was doomed. Hemingway was shaken by the First World War and spoke lines complete with verbal consistency and masculine presage.

There’s also Marion Cotillard playing Adriana, Picasso’s mistress, who from her introduction becomes the apple of Gil’s eye. Adrien Brody plays Spanish painter Salvador Dali who is introduced as the comic fix. He compares Gil’s failed romance with Inez to that of his fixation with painting rhinoceroses.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji bathes Paris in a rich golden hue which fits the 1920s with glowing lamps and lush art direction. Gil feels that Paris is best when it rains, and Inez directly opposes to it. No wonder they were doomed to break up!

There’s always a Woody Allen character in every film of his. Owen Wilson’s Gil is that character. From examining wine with a scientific approach to talking gibberish without a break,Wilson fits well in those Allen-esque costumes. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein is a treasure to watch.

Allen has been writing since 1965. He still strikes to me as the guy who can entertain audiences of any age. There’s that magic in Midnight in Paris that’s inevitable. I last felt it while watching Annie Hall.

There’s nothing to dislike in Midnight in Paris. It’s all about being hooked on to the narrative magic of Woody Allen.