Sean K. Cureton

We Bought A Zoo: Review

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on January 21, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Theatrical Poster

We Bought a Zoo
3 out of 4 stars
Directed by Cameron Crowe

Cameron Crowe is probably one of the best American directors working in Hollywood today, primarily because he is also one of the most accessible directors, whose films seem to be made exclusively for the average American moviegoer. Most American moviegoers will probably remember quite fondly Crowe’s 1996 film Jerry Maguire, which was the film where Tom Cruise played a loveable sports agent who, rather naively, decides to become a free agent and build up his own list of clients with the help of another fairly naïve character played by Renee Zellweger, with whom he starts a romantic relationship. While Maguire certainly helped to make Crowe a household name, it was his other films, like his 1989 debut Say Anything or 2000’s auto-biographical release of Almost Famous that showed Crowe to be a great film maker with a true ability to craft great narratives through the medium of film.

Crowe’s newest release, We Bought a Zoo, falls somewhere between the aforementioned categories. Zoo is certainly well-made, and it shows how good Crowe has become over the years at crafting great cinematic stories about relatable characters to an American audience, but at the same time it does seem to fall into the category of Maguire, in that the protagonist, played by Matt Damon, takes on a task naively and falls into a relationship with another character in the film, played by Scarlett Johansson. Like Maguire, Zoo is a very predictable Romantic Comedy that fails to challenge either the audience or Crowe’s abilities as an artist.

Yet, at the same time, Zoo is definitely just as gripping as something like Say Anything, since Damon’s character, named Benjamin Mee, engages with the other characters in the film in a way that is both moving and believable. Like Lloyd Doppler, Benjamin Mee is smart, sweet, and just innocent enough so that his actions don’t feel too scripted, or obviously thought-out by a writer. Thus, Benjamin Mee comes off like someone honestly engaging with the world around him and stumbling along the way.

However, Mee’s stumbles do feel at times to be too easy and archaic. While the film progresses, one can not help but guess what will happen at every step, and for the most part one’s guesses will be completely right. At times in the movie, one wonders whether Crowe knew how to really end the film, or whether he was simply using endings from other films from over the course of his career to help him end this one quickly and cleanly.

Yet, We Bought a Zoo ultimately overcomes its rather tedious plot, if only because of how well written each of the characters are, and how well the characters are acted. Damon exudes warmth as a recent widower trying to reconnect with his kids and the world, Johansson seems more human in this film than ever before, and less like a super beautiful goddess, and Thomas Haden Church is hysterical as Damon’s older brother, providing a performance on par with his equally wonderful performance in Alexander Payne’s Sideways. Even newcomer Maggie Elizabeth Jones is wonderful in this film as Damon’s young daughter, whose cute quips seem to outmatch Maguire’s “cute kid,” played at the time by a young Jonathan Lipnicki.

Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo is a good film, even if it is more on par with something like Jerry Maguire as opposed to his more interesting films like Say Anything and Almost Famous. Yet, Crowe has made more challenging films in the past, which, while being more interesting, are definitely not better than this film, such as 2005’s Elizabethtown. We Bought a Zoo is a good movie, and is one of this reviewer’s favorite films of 2011, even if though it is not one of the best films released this year, or within Crowe’s entire career.


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