Archive for January 2012

We Bought A Zoo (Cameron Crowe, 2011)


I really like Matt Damon.  Along with Leo DeCaprio he is among our current living throwbacks to beloved 50’s Hollywood actors (Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart) and I know second hand that the guy is a true gentleman.  I saw this as a good afternoon film for my kids without knowing Cameron Crowe was the director.  Say Anything (1989) and Almost Famous (2000) are really good films where the director’s Kapraesque vision works;  however, when lost to his own devices Crowe deteriorates into empty and sometimes offensive sentiment.

Based loosely (?) on a true story of a man (Benjamin Mee, Damon) that had lost his wife months earlier is left with two young children, his young teenage son just being expelled from school for bad behavior.  Seeking a new start Mee (newspaper writer) looks to new real estate for solace and finds a home in rural Southern California.  Apparently the Title work didn’t list “zoo” as an exception to title in Schedule B.  After purchasing the home, looking for his new start, Mee discovers he has purchased a home AND a zoo with a full staff (lead by a very hesitant Scarlett Johansson) and a good number of other animal species.  Where was the staff when Mee got his home tour?

Within this genre (drama / comedy of family getting over the loss of a loved one) there are good films, one of which is Fly Away Home.  Carroll Ballard’s 1996 film captures the initial darkness and tragedy of the events that lead to catharsis.  Then little Anna Paquin finds solace with her father (a wonderful Jeff Daniels perf) in leading a gaggle of geese back to the coast during the Fall.  That film had its own flaws (under developed environmental storyline) too but is non pretentious in its tale of an estranged father / daughter relationship brought back together by tragedy.

Zoo has moments of true cringe including two 13 year old children exchanging ‘I love you’s’ to an incredibly ill-timed joke involving the recent Chilean miner disaster (will that ever be safe territory?).  Some sweet moments ensue including an ill tiger sub-story but the payoff falls short.  Compounding the problem is the 124 minute cut had me and other dad looking for the toilet and exit.  The obvious proper end to the film has the camera tracking back from a fort with a visual of a successful and completely predictable Zoo re-opening is followed by a tepid sequence involving father telling children how he had first met mom.  I nearly walked out of Crowe’s disastrous 2001 Vanilla Sky and I would have done so here if not for my kiddos that will hopefully look back at this film with the cynicism this film deserves.

If you want to see a great grieving Matt Damon check out Soderburgh’s Contagion.

* 1/2  /  *****