In 2011, Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire) has returned to the directors chair after a 6 year hiatus with We Bought A Zoo, a family comedy/drama that stars Matt Damon(The Bourne Identity, Good Will Hunting) and Scarlett Johannson (Iron Man, The Prestige). The film is based on memoirs written by the real life Benjamin Mee who Matt Damon portrays in the film.
Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), a recent widower, struggles through the daily routine of being a single father while also coping with the recent death of his wife due to illness. Mee is constantly given subtle little reminders of her and refuses to go anywhere that himself and her used to go to while she was alive. Mee in seeking a change and a fresh start for him and his kids, Dylan and Rosie who are played by Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones, begins to look for a new house with his daughter Rosie. They go through the search until they finally found the house that they truly want, a house that they learn is also a zoo. Benjamin is reluctant about buying the house because he knows nothing about owning a zoo. But then he sees how excited Rosie is and how well she does with the animals and decides to buy it despite the reluctancy. With the help of the zoo staff lead by the lead zookeeper, Kelly Foster (Scarlet Johannson), Benjamin and his family have to get the zoo cleaned up and in regulation with the plan to open up for the summer. Mee has to deal with struggles between him and his son, complications with some of the animals, problems with the staff, and the daily stress of getting the zoo ready for a very deep inspection before the opening of the zoo. To close it all out, he takes his children and faces a fear that had been haunting him. All of these things made We Bought A Zoo a fun and highly enjoyable film to close out the year 2011.
Matt Damon has always been one of those actors that either got way too much praise than he deserved or way too much criticism than he deserved. I personally have always liked Matt Damon and for the most part have enjoyed his films, of course there is the forgettable dud from time to time. But for me Good Will Hunting and the three Bourne films that he starred in will always keep him in the mix of actors I highly enjoy watching. His portrayel of Benjamin Mee in We Bought A Zoo really gave Damon a chance to show the range that he can possess if given the right material. The role was a bit of an emotional roller coaster with different peaks and valleys and I feel Damon played it very well and it was believable in all of it, which for me is the most important thing. There was also a bit of a dry humor mixed in that I found to be incredibly fun to watch. Matt Damons performance in the film was a true delight to watch and seemed to carry on to some of the other actors in the film. Scarlet Johannson has always been one of my favorite actresses not only in the looks department but also in the fact that she has a lot of acting talent. She has had so many great roles in her career, a career that she stared at a young age and it’s been fun watching her grow up in film and watching her grow as an actress. While she wasn’t quite up to that standard that she set in previous films, she was still enjoyable to watch and for any other actress this would probably have been a great performance. Her connection with Matt Damon seemed to grow throughout the film as the relationship between the two charaters changed.
On the flip side of that, I dreaded the parts when Colin Ford, who played Benjamin’s teenage son Dylan, was on the screen. I haven’t quite decided if I was so disgusted because of him or because he played the role of whiney, selfish teenage boy so well. The latter seems to be a more logical explanation for it because he was most definitely all of those things. Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Benjamin’s daughter Rosie, and Elle Fanning played incredibly cute roles in the film but it seemed to get to be way too much cuteness. It seemed like any time there was a down moment Crowe said “oh lets shown some cuteness from the two young girls on the set.” Which works for your average moviegoer so good job Crowe, but it doesn’t work for me. Amongst all of this you have some excellent comedic relief delivered by a few actors, Thomas Haden Church, Angus MacFadyen, and John Michael Higgins. Anytime one of those three actors were on the screen I was waiting with anticipation for the hilarity to begin.
We Bought A Zoo was a film that I had relatively high expectations for and when that occurs I am always so worried that it isn’t going to meet those expectations. Those expectations were met so I wasn’t disappointed when the credits rolled but it did seem that an opportunity for a great film was wasted. The film had a little bit of everything and some of the performances delivered were very good and highly enjoyable. It’s a film that I had fun watching and I did enjoy but when it’s all said and done it feels like Cameron Crowe could have taken this material and made it into something so much better instead of wasting it in scenes that seemed to have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the film. Definitely worth a watch but in the end just feels like an opportunity was wasted.
3.5 out of 5 stars