'We Bought a Zoo': a family's wild leap of faith
A movie review of Cameron Crowe's first narrative feature in six years. It's both family friendly and rich with the director's favorite themes of transformation and taking leaps of faith toward possible happiness.
Special to The Seattle Times
'We Bought a Zoo,' with Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Elle Fanning, Colin Ford, Angus Macfadyen, Stephanie Szostak, Maggie Elizabeth Jones. Directed by Cameron Crowe, from a screenplay by Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna, based on a memoir by Benjamin Mee. 124 minutes. Rated PG for language and some thematic elements. Several theaters.
Trailer: 'We Bought a Zoo'
Though "We Bought a Zoo" is based on a true story, there isn't a moment in Cameron Crowe's winning family-friendly drama/comedy when it's easy to believe a grown man and recent widower would uproot his children's lives to revitalize a broken-down, animal park miles from civilization.
But that's just fine. Crowe's first narrative feature following the 2005 "Elizabethtown" (he's made a couple of documentaries since) merely shrugs at the problem of suspending an audience's disbelief. That's because "Zoo" isn't about probability. It's about taking a complete leap of faith toward life-altering changes, a running theme in all the director's movies ("Say Anything," "Singles").
Crowe asks us to accept this seemingly unlikely story of salvation for people and critters alike for what it is, then see what happens. That's no less than what the characters face with their wild gamble.
Benjamin (a stirring Matt Damon), a thrill-seeking journalist, becomes a stay-at-home dad numb from the loss of his wife (Stephanie Szostak, seen in flashbacks). He finds comfort in his little daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), but is in daily conflict with his troubled teen son, Dylan (Colin Ford).
On a whim, Benjamin moves everyone to a rural house that comes with a rundown zoo. The place is barely held together by a group of near-misfit zookeepers, including Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), a take-charge, disillusioned head boss.
Benjamin struggles to save the zoo, deal with grief and Dylan, and understand his attraction to Kelly. So it goes. But take "Zoo" moment to moment, and its minor exterior yields to lovely rewards: the way Crowe typically conveys the feeling of a transformative journey; the idea of community as a four-legged and two-legged menagerie; the way spoken words fall like multicolored jewels on a writer's ears. (It's no accident Benjamin and Dylan collide over the use, misuse and absence of meaningful language.)
Kids attending "Zoo" might not figure out all the nuances. But for them, Crowe brings on lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com
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