DIRECTED BY CAMERON CROWE
STARRING: MATT DAMON, SCARLETT JOHANSSON, COLIN FORD, MAGGIE ELIZABETH JONES, PATRICK FUGIT, ANGUS MacFADYEN, ELLE FANNING, JOHN MICHAEL HIGGINS, CARLA GALLO with JB SMOOVE, STEPHANIE SZOSTAK and THOMAS HADEN CHURCH
Cameron Crowe’s most adventurous film till date might not have all it takes to jump off the page. But it has enough to make do with. ‘We Bought a Zoo’ is ridden with Crowe-staples in a plotline that looks too easy to come by but hard to digest – exactly what the man has been about all his life. It’s a leisure trip that doesn’t amount to much else. Kind of how a newly-widowed father takes his two kids, one on the shoulder, the other by his side, on an escape into the wilderness where, in this case, he’s bought it beforehand. ‘Do not feed the animals’ doesn’t apply to his crazy twenty seconds.
Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is about Damon’s age and has his hair, something that his seven year old daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) uses to distinguish him with from other Dads his age. It has been six months since his wife had died, so we’re looking at a time past the mourning period where the decision gets made about setting the wheels in motion back again. Well, the wheels are in motion, Ben gets hit on by a fellow single parent who’s taken her time to make them some lasagna, a dinner which he, out of solidarity or rather a lack thereof, saves for later in a fridge that’s stacked. There looks to be plenty of cooks for hire about town.
The younger child is easy where the older one is beyond repair. It’s only natural to expect that with Crowe’s optimism. Rosie mothers her Dad, Ben gives back. The older child is a boy who has, to put it simply, crossed over. Every child spawned in Hollywood is an amazing artist post-trauma. In a Cameron Crowe movie, we’re simply looking at escalation. Dylan (Colin Ford), named for Bob Dylan by both Benjamin and Crowe, sleeps with his art book so his Dad could take a look when he’s done. This effort is totally required after he gets expelled from school for decapitating on the school wall. It’s what you get when you draw a grotesque head-severing mural amidst sunshine and rainbows.
On a parallel note, Ben quits his job as an investigative reporter who’s given a column on an e-Paper as a sympathetic gesture. His Boss thinks it’s only natural. Ben thinks he can do better. He’s still a forty-year old bundle of quirks with all of Damon’s spontaneity and, like I said, a whole head of hair. His son has just been expelled, his daughter can adapt and his brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) keeps asking him why he hasn’t moved on yet. What can be a better time to decide to?
Now, I don’t know how many real-estate agents are Black, and it sure isn’t easy logic to ascertain why Crowe had cast JB Smoove in the role of one Mr. Stevens, but we almost have a ‘Show me the Money’ recap where Rosie tells him she likes him instead. He shows the Mee-twosome of Ben and Rosie a long-abandoned house that’s ‘9 miles away from the nearest grocer.’ However, it doesn’t overlook a graveyard as far as clichés go. It comes with a Zoo. And a 28-year old zookeeper by the name of Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) who’s married to it to agoraphobic proportions.
The other ‘inmates’ are technical expert Peter MacCready (Angus MacFadyen), who’s kind of a Luigi to this Radiator Springs where Guido, possibly, is Robin Jones (Patrick Fugit) as the only person in the vicinity who can be entrusted with the extremely rare Capuchin monkey. Then there’s Lily Miska (Elle Fanning) a really tall 13-year old who is home-schooled and works at the restaurant for under-the-table wages just so she could bring Dylan a sandwich at 4:15 in the evening every day. There are a couple more people to put up tent-poles and fences and help to round up an escaped bear, but that’s only because there can’t be more rifles than there are human beings. It’s a ground rule.
Duncan calls Kelly a motivating factor. Ben courts the zoo. A personal drama becomes an obstacle course where the hurdles disappear with a sleight of heart. In other words, Ben sidesteps them with his daughter on his shoulder and his son by his side, like I said. It’s an escape, not a solution, but the sad part is that the escape also encompasses the solution, as discussed by Kelly and Ben with respect to Spar, the Tiger, in an obvious comparison. Jerry Maguire tells Dorothy Boyd that he’d take her Son to the Zoo sometime. Dorothy tells him that wouldn’t change a thing. It’s the same case with Kelly and the film on the whole. It takes us all to the Zoo. We have a wife-bereft individual and a son who’s resisting change and we go to the zoo with them. I think that sums up the experience.
‘We Bought a Zoo’ is exactly how Crowe would make ‘We Bought a Zoo’ and that doesn’t make it a bad film. It’s ill-fated in that there’s been a better one recently. I’m talking about ‘the Descendants,’ from the second-most romantic of defeatists after Woody Allen. Everyone in this film pitted against everyone in ‘the Descendants’ would lose big on credibility except for Kelly who doesn’t have a peer. And Ben, maybe, who is Damon’s own characteristic show. ‘Elizabethtown’ wasn’t worst-hit where ‘Jersey Girl’ went down on a ‘Garden State’ time. ‘We Bought a Zoo’ is most unfortunate that way. Between two inheritances, you pick the one with more at stake. And I, with widower-speculation, felt I should kiss Elizabeth goodbye rather than have Katherine (Stephanie Szostak) say ‘Why Not?’ again. Which, of course, has more to do with the film than the actual situation that is Crowe-crazy and, no doubt, beautiful.