Moviegoers across the country had the opportunity to see a sneak preview of Cameron Crowe’s latest film We Bought a Zoo a month before it hits theatres at the end of December. After the screenings dozens of audience members took to Twitter to post their instant reactions to the film and moments later the full-length reviews started coming in. The response from audience members seems to be elated and the critics seem to largely be in disagreement, although the reviewers from the major trades were a little more restrained in their adoration.
Jack Giroux of the Film School Rejects had the first word on the film with a quick overview of his thoughts. His was similar to a lot of the reactions I was reading on Twitter:
In short: I love this movie.
A few days ago, like everyone else, I rushed to see The Muppets and found it thoroughly charming. We Bought a Zoo, in comparison, makes that level of heart-warming seem like child’s play. Yes, Cameron Crowe’s film is that sweet and tender, and not in a schmaltzy or dopey way, either. Crowe finds that comforting warmness he usually tends to capture with his great casts and rocking soundtracks, both more than present here with Matt Damon‘s excellent performance and Jónsi’s lovely score.
The Playlist says the film is too saccharine, but succeeds nonetheless. However, the fact that it undeniably possesses Cameron Crowe’s stamp works here:
While broadly drawn in story and fairly predictable, even banal at times, where the film counts and scores major emotional points is in the details that are unmistakably Crowe’s. Much of the story revolves around communication and or lack thereof, be it with father and son, animal and human or employer and employee. The writer/director nails a few killer monologues, particularly one where Damon has to plead with a dying Begal tiger to eat so it will get better. Or at least keep on living for a little while longer.
Rob Nelson of Variety seems to reflect a lot of the critical reaction that the film only succeeds due to the performances:
Crowe, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aline Brosh McKenna, clearly wishes to celebrate the group’s tireless efforts to reopen the park, but only Damon, convincing and likable throughout, has been given enough to do. As played sweetly by Jones, young Rosie is just another implausibly precocious pre-tween who, like Johansson’s underwritten Kelly, exists largely to smile approvingly at the hero. The animals’ reaction shots appear somewhat more nuanced, though, believe it or not, “Zoo” manages to shortchange its non-human performers as well.
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter writes a review that is remarkably similar to Rob Nelson’s. They both say that Crowe’s directorial effort misses the mark, but the performances make the film a worthy effort:
While most of them are given little to chew on, the cast is solid. In Johansson’s understated performance, Kelly is smart and perceptive, drawn to Benjamin but too serious about her work to flirt. Church’s wry affability is the ideal contrast to Damon’s somber restraint; Ford balances anger with raw hurt; and Jones is adorable even if her precocious character suffers from Crowe’s fondness for overwritten, movie-ish dialogue. As one of the zoo staffers, Patrick Fugit doesn’t get to do much beyond lope around with a capuchin monkey on his shoulder, but it’s nice to see Crowe’s Almost Famous alter ego along for the ride.
Drew McWeeney of HitFix admits that the movie made him misty-eyed. He disagrees with the critics from the trades calling it Cameron Crowe at his best:
There’s a running thread in the film about courage, and in particular, about the courage it takes to lay yourself bare emotionally in front of someone else. That’s certainly true on a personal scale, but it’s even more true when you’re talking about a filmmaker who makes such nakedly, openly emotional films. Last time out for Cameron Crowe was “Elizabethtown,” and he didn’t just misstep… he got creamed. People still drag that one out as a punchline when they need to drop in the title of something that’s universally hated, and much of what people rejected about the film is the exact same stuff they embraced about his earlier work, which must have left Crowe feeling vulnerable.
We Bought a Zoo will be in theatres in the U.S. on Friday, December 23rd.
As expected there will likely be no Awards attention coming for Cameron Crowe’s latest film, however the reaction does indicate that we haven’t seen the last from Crowe. This sounds like a solid bounce back effort and could indicate he has more projects up his sleeve that could see him returning to a nomination for Best Screenplay in the future.
Other Fall 2011 Review Round-Ups
- Venice: George Clooney’s The Ides of March
- Venice: Roman Polanski’s Carnage
- Venice: David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method
- Telluride: Alexander Payne’s The Descendants
- Telluride: Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs
- Venice and Telluride: Steve McQueen’s Shame
- Venice: Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
- Venice and Telluride: Alps, Butter, and Dark Horse
- Toronto: Bennett Miller’s Moneyball
- Toronto: Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous
- Toronto: Jonathan Levine’s 50/50
- Toronto: Rampart, The Deep Blue Sea, Coriolanus, Take This Waltz
- New York: Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn
- New York: Martin Scorcese’s Incomplete Hugo
- London: Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin
- AFI: Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar