Cinema Review: We Bought A Zoo

Actors in A Zoo

DIR: Cameron Crowe  WRI: Cameron Crowe, Aline Brosh McKenna  PRO:
Cameron Crowe, Marc Gordon, Julie Yorn  DOP: Rodrigo Prieto  ED: Mark
Livolsi  DES: Clay A. Griffith Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson,
Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning

More than six years on from his previous feature length effort, the
thoroughly underwhelming Elizabethtown, Cameron Crowe returns to the
silver screen with We Bought A Zoo, based on a book of the same name
by Benjamin Mee, played in the film by the ubiquitous Matt Damon (who,
like Crowe, has an Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay to his name).

Having first come to people’s attention with his screenplay for Amy
Heckerling’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Crowe went on to become the
critically acclaimed auteur of films like Say Anything (which helped
to launch the A-list credentials of John Cusack), Jerry Maguire and
Almost Famous, which displayed not only his great abilities as a
storyteller, but also his great taste in music, which he developed
during his time as a writer with the iconic Rolling Stone magazine.

This has been the consistent through line in all his films, as even
Elizabethtown (a critical and commerical failure) featured the likes
of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Simple Minds and James Brown on its
soundtrack.

The same is true of We Bought A Zoo, as the spirits of Petty and Bob
Dylan are evoked to tell the story of a widower (Damon’s Benjamin
Mee), who buys a house in Southern California in the hope of escaping
the painful memories of his late wife, only to discover that it is on
the sight of a delapidated zoo.

This is met with by the approval of his daughter, Rosie (Maggie
Elizabeth Jones), but the outright disapproval of his 14-year-old son,
Dylan (Colin Ford), who does not meet the prospect of living in a zoo
with much enthusiasm.

With the helping hands of Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church and
Patrick Fugit (the protagonist from Almost Famous), Damon has to
renovate the zoo within a tight timeframe, whilst trying to keep his
still grieving family on side.

Given the premise of the film, We Bought A Zoo does have the potential
to return Crowe to the heady days of Jerry Maguire or Almost Famous,
but also has the potential to recall the yuck factor of the
aforementioned Elizabethtown.

Certainly there are elements of the film that are somewhat grating,
the characterisation of the young son does come across as overly
stereotypical for instance, and at 124 minutes the film is much longer
that it needs to be. It also suffers from the fact that there isn’t
any real stand-out moment in the film, and there isn’t anything held
within to match the mini-bus sing-a-long in Almost Famous, or John
Cusack’s Boom Box moment from Say Anything.

However, the film does possess a certain charm, thanks largely to Matt
Damon, who has quietly turned into one of the most consistent and
reliable actors currently working in Hollywood. He gives a winning
performance as Mee, a real-life writer who went through many of the
trials and tribulations seen on screen, and he is given solid support
by the ever-excellent Haden Church and Johansson, who makes for a more
believable zookeeper than one would intially imagine.

Credit must also go to rising star Elle Fanning, who makes the very
most of a rather thankless role. Ultimately, We Bought A Zoo won’t be
too everyone’s taste, and will probably still come as something of a
disappointment to Crowe fans, but it certainly does have its merits,
and in the shape of Matt Damon, it has an actor who has invested his
character with real emotion and real heart.

Daire Walsh

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
We Bought A Zoo is released on 16th March 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STXvAhrVP0U

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