Saturday, December 31, 2011

We Bought A Zoo

Cameron Crowe continues to explore Men Going Through Stuff in We Bought A Zoo, based on a memoir by journalist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon). Having covered first love, career crises, and father issues, Crowe movies on here to grief and single parenthood. After the death of his wife, Mee impulsively buys a country house with a zoo attached on 18 rambling acres and brings his two children along in the hopes of forgetting the past. The zoo comes with its own ragtag crew, led by Scarlett Johansson as a zookeeper who coincidentally has no personal life. Mee is another in Crowe's gang of holy fools, quitting his job and charging into a risky new life just with the same focus that Lloyd Dobler first went after Diane. Damon is sneakliy good here; the dialogue that's written for him is recognizable as Crowe's but Damon makes Mee his own man and makes clear how badly Mee needs this change. The plot revolves around Mee and the zoo employees preparing for a pre-opening government inspection, but the best scenes involve Mee and his troubled teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford). Dylan's angry artwork is the kind that a ten-year old TV movie would have used as shorthand for "future school sniper", and part of Mee's journey is realizing that his son's grief hasn't been properly addressed. Damon and Ford's scenes together have a strong, angry edge. Ford and Elle Fanning (as the zoo's youngest resident) give their scenes an unhurried charm, and it's refreshing to see Fanning not playing a prematurely grown-up kid. We Bought A Zoo doesn't go anywhere you won't see coming, but Crowe is perhaps our most convivial director and it's a pleasure to be in these people's company for a couple of hours. Family, community, and a connection to the earth are all celebrated unironically in We Bought A Zoo; that alone is reason to welcome Cameron Crowe back to movie screens.

1 comment:

Portugal said...

WE BOUGHT A ZOO isn't as incisive or emotionally searing as THE DESCENDANTS, a similar picture dealing with a family's grief. WE BOUGHT A ZOO, to be frank, won't be nominated for as many awards as THE DESCENDANTS will. Except that I like this movie better. Sue me for prefering clear-cut happy endings. While Clooney's dramedy tends to cut too close to home and no one in WE BOUGHT A ZOO comes close to Shailene Woodley's fierce performance, Matt Damon and the rest of the cast guide you to more familiar territory. Their story has a warmth and an undeniable sweetness to it, brought about in huge part by the actors but also by Crowe's knack for heartstring tugging. And, of course, the zoo animals.

Benjamin Mee has his work cut out for him. The Rosemoor Wildlife Park has been dead in the water for the past two years, and just how strongly does he want to commit to operating a zoo, let alone resurrecting it to specs? The dreaded inspection is fast approaching. His idiosyncratic new employees - including the gorgeous zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson) - are casting dubious eyes at him. Benjamin's troubled teen son, Dylan, hates the place, hates everything, really. He keeps on drawing those disturbing images. Benjamin and Dylan just can't seem to connect.