We Bought A Zoo * 1/2
Director: Cameron Crowe.
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe, Aline Brosh McKenna.
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Angus MacFadyen, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, John Michael Higgins, Peter Riegert, Stephanie Szostak, J.B. Smoove.
Director Cameron Crowe is certainly no stranger to maudlin sentimentality. I have found a few of his films rather good though. I enjoyed “Singles” and “Almost Famous” and despite some critical panning, I found “Vanilla Sky” to be a bit of a darker delicacy from him. Even “Jerry Maguire” was decent. However, the abysmal “Elizabethtown” didn’t sit too well at all and I thought Crowe couldn’t crank up the excessive mushiness any further after that. I was wrong.
Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is a widowed father, bringing up his two children by himself after losing his wife to cancer. Things aren’t going well though as his son gets expelled from school and he feels the need to quit his job on an L.A. newspaper. He decides that a fresh start is needed for them all and takes his two kids off to live in a run-down country house with a run- down zoo attached. It seems like lunacy at first but Benjamin decides to refurbish the place and bring the zoo back to life.
There is a question that’s asked between two characters at the end of this film… “If you had to choose between people and animals. Who would you pick?” On this evidence, I’d chose the animals. The cheese factor is so high on the people that they may as well be walking chunks of four week old camembert. I swear I could see the mould on them. The performances aren’t bad per se but Cameron’s direction is so high on the schmaltz that I was crying out for a Travis Bickle to come and wash this scum out of the park. Someone to just take this zoo and just… just flush it down the fuckin’ toilet. Damon puts in his usual, likeable, everyman job and shows good emotive moments. The rest of the cast are also quite appealing and even Johansson’s pout is kept to a minimum. The only glimmer of anything natural here though, is the animals. Everything else is completely manufactured tosh. As mentioned, the problem lies in Crowe’s direction. He doesn’t let the characters breathe and develop on their own. He forces you to feel for them. He feeds you more shit than it’s possible to shovel at a zoo and my emotional state felt violated at his insistence. Subtle, this film is not. Stereotypical and predictable, it is. There’s an integral, recurrent, piece of fatherly advice that runs throughout…”You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Maybe Crowe shouldn’t have actually applied this advice to himself. He may have taken that twenty seconds of insane courage but something ‘great’, certainly, DID NOT come of it. There is one word that’s correct about that quote though… ‘Embarrassing’. Crowe must be in the midst of mid-life crisis or something. It’s the only way you can explain such nauseating cloyingness. Is he compensating for something, or did mommy and daddy not pay him enough attention when he was a child?
If you have a sweet tooth, then this will be a real treat but otherwise, stick to something with a bit more zest and sharpness.