We Bought A Zoo (2011)
From Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown) comes a new family friendly and heart-warming tale of a recently widowed father of a troubled young teen and cute-as-a-button itty-bitty daughter. Six months after his wife's death, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) decides that considering his teenage son has just been expelled from school after three suspensions and then a charge of stealing, that now would be the opportune time to move himself and his kids to somewhere new, even though his son doesn't want to move any more than Benjamin's brother (Thomas Haden Church) wants them to. Kelly - Benjamin, why did you buy this zoo? Benjamin - (long pause) Why not? (grins) And this is the resounding, echoing query that follows Cameron Crowe around like a lost grizzly for the first hour or so of the film. The telling of Benjamin Mee's autobiography in picture form was always going to be an interesting project, regardless of who ended up calling the shots, but with Crowe, you at least have a pre-determined stab at what you're going to be getting, so while the first hour may not make you sit up and take notice, you can be guaranteed that the set up was there for the more patient viewers in the audience.
When it comes, and it does, Crowe wraps the viewer up in smooth narrative and poignant moments of overcoming loss and investing in hard work, love for the family unit and a conviction of pursuing dreams and never giving up on something you believe in. All very admirable, but this still amounts to nothing without a great script and an able and confident cast of players. Fortunately, the casting is excellent and what may have seemed like an odd choice at first in the shape of Scarlett Johansson as Kelly, proved to be inspired for the main supporting role. Kelly has a fire in her belly, a quick mind, a love of animals and a genuine work ethic to add her to thirteen years of experience at the zoo. Matt Damon is traversing into new areas of storytelling all of the time and as his waistline grows, it seems that so do his abilities, with a multi-dimensional turn here as Benjamin Mee, father of two, widower of one, often lost and confused but nonetheless determined to do what he feels is right, even if that initially upsets most of the people he knows. This is done with care and often warm humour. His performance is passionate and well considered, with Crowe directing the story into him with his usual sense of the just and true. In all, a delightful film that highlights all of the good things about being in a family, albeit extended here, that cares for one another, showing spirit and passion in times of hardship and overcoming obstacles that seem insurmountable. Recommended for everyone.