WE BOUGHT A ZOO (PG)
A fantastic final scene, but the rest of the film doesn't deserve it
YOU couldn't exactly call Cameron Crowe's first film since the abysmal Elizabethtown six years ago a return to form.
The writer-director who wowed with Jerry Maguire and then picked up an Oscar for Almost Famous has seen his reputation tarnished with his last couple of efforts, but while this likeable comedy drama is certainly better than Elizabethtown and Crowe's equally hopeless Vanilla Sky, that isn't really saying much.
It's based on the memoirs of British journalist Benjamin Mee, with Matt Damon playing Mee, a beleaguered father of two still reeling from his wife's death six months earlier.
He's looking for a change of career and lifestyle, and so he and his kids decamp to a large home out in the California hills.
As the title promises, they do indeed buy a zoo, as the house comes with a working wildlife park attached, run by Scarlett Johansson, and thus cueing many a montage of unqualified people trying to run a zoo.
What light drama there is comes from bills to pay or sick animals to care for, and it often feels like one of those reality shows on morning telly, with all the depth of such.
It just all seems so incidental, a sideline to the real human drama as the family struggles to cope without wife and mother.
This aspect does provide at least one beautiful moment and a final scene so good that frankly the rest of the film doesn't deserve it.
Damon and Johansson are rock solid, but there are as many frustrations as things to like.
Thomas Haden Church gets landed with a thankless role as Benjamin's brother, and your tolerance for cheese and whimsy will be sorely tested by something so twee and saccharine that you may well develop diabetes before the end.
And yet it would be an uncharitable soul indeed who would say a truly bad word against We Bought a Zoo.
It's as pleasant and appealing and safe as a film with a soundtrack largely by Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and Sigur Rós can be.
Director: Cameron Crowe
Running time: 124 mins
SEE IT IF YOU LIKED:
Zookeeper; Jerry Maguire