A couple of weeks ago George Clooney was a dad struggling to keep his family together as his wife neared death in ‘The Descendants’.
Now it’s Matt Damon’s turn to play a struggling, grieving dad.
Clooney’s movie ‘The Descendants’ is typical of its director, Alexander Payne – whimsical, bitter, witty with a quirky soundtrack.
Damon’s movie ‘We Bought A Zoo’ is typical too of its director Cameron Crowe – romantic, saccharine, with a hip soundtrack.
Crowe, a former Rolling Stone journalist, is at his best when he is affectionately chronicling the world of rock bands – whether it is the Zepplin style band in ‘Almost Famous’ or the Seattle grunge scene in ‘Singles’.
His biggest box office success, however, was ‘Jerry Maguire’, with Tom Cruise playing a sports agent desperately trying to hold on to his prize client Cuba Gooding Jr’s loud mouthed American football star while falling for Renee Zellwegger’s loyal personal assistant and her oh so cute spectacled son (Jonathan Lipnicki).
‘We Bought A Zoo’ follows the classic Cameron Crowe formula, taking its inspiration from a true story in Devon but transferring the action to Southern California.
Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee, a journalist who has interviewed dictators and literally flown into the eye of a storm in a chartered plane but who is struggling to keep his family afloat after the death of his wife.
He has a cute daughter called Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), who still believes in the Easter Bunny, and a troubled teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford) who is a talented artist but obsessed with decapitation and other dark themes.
Desperate to avoid fighting off the attentions of school moms and pitying colleagues in the newsroom, he quits his job and begins house hunting.
Accompanied by Rosie, he falls in love with one property – only to discover it is a rundown zoo with uncertain staff and the animals facing a possible trip to the knacker’s yard.
Can Mee win over sceptical staff, resurrect the zoo and rekindle his relationship with his grieving son?
‘We Bought a Zoo’ is a harmless enough film but coming hot on the heels of ‘The Descendants’, it suffers by comparison.
Matt Damon is solid enough in the main role and Scarlett Johansson also turns in a decent performance as zookeeper, Kelly Foster.
However the movie is undermined by Maggie Elizabeth Jones’ way too sweet performance as Rosie which plays to the gallery in much the same way as Jonathan Lipnicki did in ‘Jerry Maguire’.
There’s a one dimensional stage Scotsman performance by Angus MacFadyean as a zoo employee Macready, while the teen romance between Ford’s character and Elle Fanning’s naive Lily Miska never quite convinces.
Thomas Haden Church, who was so good in Alexander Payne’s ‘Sideways’, is a bit of disappointment too and appears to be going through the motions.
‘We Bought A Zoo’ is watchable but is more memorable for a decent soundtrack featuring Sigur Ross, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Neil Young.
The movie is like a pair of comfortable slippers – warm, fluffy but not something you are likely to shout about.
‘We Bought A Zoo’ opened in the Movie House and other UK and Ireland cinemas on March 16, 2012.