WE BOUGHT A ZOO
By Gary Murray
Starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Hayden Church
Written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Cameron Crowe
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Running time 124 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating Matinee
As a teenager, Cameron Crow was the writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. He was the young ‘go to’ guy who loved the rock and roll circus, writing articles full of power and insight. He also wrote the investigative book Fast Times at Ridgemont High which was made into a major motion picture. Now, he is a director with Vanilla Sky, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous as a part of his credits. His latest film is more of a family turn and is called We Bought a Zoo.
Matt Damon stars as Benjamin Mee, a journalist who lives for adventure. He is the guy who will fly into the eye of a hurricane just to get the story. But, his life is at a crossroads. His wife (seen in flashbacks) has recently died from cancer and he has become the sole parent for his two kids. More of a distant father, he must find a way to reconnect with his family. His teen son Dylan (Colin Ford) has recently been thrown out of school. His job in print media is slowly becoming an anachronism so he quits before he can be put out to pasture.
Living in a town where everything reminds him of his dead wife, Benjamin decides he needs a change of scenery. As they look for a new home, they travel further from town, eventually finding a spread of massive acreage. The house is perfect but has a major rider on the property. It is a former zoo complete with lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!)
The zoo is in desperate need of repairs and leadership. The head zoo keeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) may not have all the scientific credentials but she has all the passion for the animals. She is the first one who sees that Benjamin is in over his head to a degree he cannot even fathom.
The story is of the family heals from the loss of the matriarch. It is also about building new relationships with humans and the zoo animals. Dylan becomes fast friends with Lily (Elle Fanning) a youngster who works at the park and keeps an undying positive attitude.
This is truly a paint-by-numbers film, uncomplicated and to the point. Cameron Crow tells a simple story with a graceful flair. He does find some dark areas in We Bought a Zoo which make the endeavor not as truly family friendly as one would expect. There is this weight of death that hangs over everyone and everything in the world of this film. It might just be a bit too much for some younger viewers. It is not a feel-good, ‘let’s look at the animals’ romp.
Matt Damon is slowly proving that he is the consummate actor. He can do over the top action pieces like The Bourne movies and still deliver subtle solid work as he did in True Grit. In all his roles, he has never taken on as simple role as Benjamin Mee. This basic turn as a basic guy is a refreshing bit for Damon and very welcomed.
There are not enough words in the thesaurus to describe Scarlett Johansson. Not only is she considered one of the biggest leading ladies of her generation, but she has proven time and time again that she can act. This role is a bit beneath her talent level, but she makes the most of a weak part.
We Bought a Zoo will never win any awards but it will win quite a few hearts. It is a not so much a family film but a film about family. It has some comedic moments and more than its share of poignant ones as well. The film is a nice diversion.