x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Matt Damon gives a solid turn in We Bought a Zoo

Cameron Crowe's latest work offers a masterclass in sentimentality, but remarkably little else.

Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in We Bought a Zoo. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox
Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in We Bought a Zoo. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church
***

Whether it's the marital breakdown playing out in the background of ET, or the unrealised dreams that torment the elderly hero of Pixar's Up, the best family movies are often the ones with tragedy at their cores.

Never one to under-egg the emotional pudding with films such as Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, Crowe's latest work offers a masterclass in sentimentality, but remarkably little else.

Based on the true story of a British man who revamped Dartmoor Zoological Park, the film relocates the story to southern California and sees Damon's character struggling to raise his children after the recent death of their mother. Throwing caution and financial responsibility to the wind, he quits his job and buys a dilapidated zoo, hoping that the "adventure" will bring his family closer together. Surprise, surprise - the task is tougher than first expected.

As well as the Field of Dreams-like quest, the film offers two romances, a comedy villain and even a soundtrack by the angelic-voiced Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi, all designed to bathe the viewer's heart in a perpetual magic-hour glow. But, at times, the emotional assault begins to feel bludgeoning, and despite fine performances from Damon, his love interest Johansson and the young cast, the plot offers few surprises to fall back upon.

We Bought A Zoo is undeniably sweet and good-natured, but the outright inevitability of both its story and its emotional trajectory render it simply an average family movie, rather than the great one we might have expected from Crowe.