Movie Review: We Bought a Zoo – by Ian McFarland

There are several reasons that We Bought a Zoo should be a good movie. They include but are not limited to:

– It’s directed by Cameron Crowe, who’s pretty good with sentimentality.
– It’s got Grade-A Human Being Matt Damon in it.
– It’s scored by Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi, featuring music from his excellent 2010 album, Go.
– Scarlett Johansson is hot.
– It is, more often than not, a nice movie.

And yet I find it difficult not to loathe We Bought a Zoo. It is hardly the worst movie of the year, but the intensity of my intolerance for it suggests otherwise.

I’ll admit to this much – We Bought a Zoo is a mostly well made film. Whoever went into making it clearly wasn’t trying to create anything other than a nice movie for the whole family would enjoy without having to commit to the full-on Kid’s Movie dynamic. It’s barely rated PG, but We Bought A Zoo is a grown-up’s movie about a grown-up, that happens to feature nothing a family would find objectionable, with some animals thrown in for good measure.

Matt Damon plays the patriarch of a family that just lost its matriarch. His son, not sure how to cope with the loss, acts out to the point of expulsion from his school. Matt Damon, having quit his job, looks deep within and comes to a realization:

Maybe he should buy a Zoo.

The movie is actually based on a memoir, so maybe this criticism is rendered invalid, but really? I mean, I don’t mind a little bit of bullshit in my movies, but the idea that running a Zoo is the key to figuring out how to talk to your middle schooler might not be the most logical path to take.

But who am I to talk? In a lovely heart-to-heart worthy of an episode of Step By Step, the kid’s Daddy Issues disappear! Plus he meets a girl that he loves so that’s good too.

As for Matt Damon, he gets over his wife’s death by killing a Tiger.

There’s enough talent here to keep the script, which would fit in a Lifetime Movie, from drowning in the schmaltz that comes so naturally to these characters. But by the time the end of the movie rolls around, we get a series of scenes that go from one terrible problem (Will we be able to fix the Zoo in time?) to one easy solution (I guess so!), to another scene with one terrible problem to one easy solution, to another and another, as if the screenwriter is going down a checklist of conflict resolution.

At this point, the movie is so friendly as to seem offensive. Maybe I just don’t know how to handle happiness, but at times I just wanted to scream “Shut uuuhhhppp” at the screen.

I guess I’m a pessimist. I guess someone needs to be miserable in the movies for me. Maybe I’m just a big meanie for not being able to be happy for Matt Damon and his damn stupid kids. But you know what? I’d rather be cold on the inside than expose myself to the unregulated optimism of this piece of Stupid.

by Ian McFarland

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