British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. Less luxurious than its advertisements, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways.
Benjamin has lost his wife. In a bid to start his life over, he purchases a large house that has a zoo. This is welcome news for his daughter, but his son is not happy about it. The zoo is need of renovation and Benjamin sets about the work with the head keeper, Kelly, and the rest of the zoo staff. But, the zoo soon runs into financial trouble. The staff must get the zoo back to its former glory, pass a zoo inspection, and get it back open to the public. Written by
A lot of heart and humanity makes this a delightful, inspiring and poignant autobiographical tale notable too for a peerless lead act by Matt Damon
You can't get more obvious what your film is about with a title like 'We Bought a Zoo', but fortunately director Cameron Crowe's adaptation of British journalist Benjamin Mee's autobiography possesses much more subtlety and nuance than what its title would suggest. The story of a grieving widower who makes the unusual decision to buy a rural property whose 18 acres includes the Rosemoor Animal Park, it is also Crowe's first feature since his 2005 flop 'Elizabethtown' and the feel-good family movie represents a welcome return to form for the talented filmmaker behind such classics like 'Say Anything' and 'Jerry Maguire'.
Working off a script by 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Morning Glory's' Aline Brosh McKenna, Crowe grounds the high-concept tale in a heart- warming story about a lonely widower trying to overcome his grief for his bereaved wife while attempting to reconnect with his teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford) and young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Crowe is better than to take the easy route of mawkish sentimentality; instead, there is genuine humanity and optimism in his storytelling, complemented by some outstanding performances that he coaxes from an ensemble cast- in particular his lead actor Matt Damon.
Though the 'Bourne' trilogy has cemented his reputation as a thinking man's action star, Damon has been and still is a strong dramatic actor. The astute actor confidently matches the emotional beats that Crowe chooses for his character every step of the way, from sanguineness at a change of scenery early on to dismay later on when one thing after another goes awry. His is a heartfelt performance that packs a powerful emotional wallop in his understated delivery of a father struggling to do it right by his children- and nowhere is this more evident than in a powerful scene where Benjamin and Dylan address their fractured relationship head-on which is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.
The conviction that Damon brings to his role is a huge reason why the film achieves its intended poignancy. A scene where his character finally overcomes his fear of looking at past photographs of his wife and their happy days together as a family is simple yet moving- and appropriately filmed in close-ups; while the film's last scene where he reminisces his first encounter with his deceased wife to his children also works brilliantly thanks to Damon at his earnest best. He also shares great chemistry with each of his co-stars- whether Scarlett Johannson's perceptive zookeeper Kelly, or Thomas Haden Church's wry older brother Duncan.
Both Johannson and Church are also individually outstanding in their supporting roles, alongside other equally incomparable veterans like Angus MacFadyen as the groundskeeper with a longstanding grudge for park inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins) and Patrick Fugit (who played Crowe's alter ego in 'Almost Famous') as one of the zoo staffers with a capuchin monkey perpetually perched on his shoulders. Crowe has also assembled an impressive teenage cast- Ford brings a raw edge to his character's anger, counterbalanced perfectly by the ebullient Elle Fanning as Kelly's cousin- as well as an impossibly adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones sure to melt your heart.
Aided by an outstanding cast, Crowe drives the narrative along with a sure confident hand. Alongside the running themes of grief and parenthood are well-inserted vignettes of Benjamin and his crew's obstacles at getting the zoo up to inspection standards in time for a grand reopening on the seventh seventh (or the seventh of July)- among them the escape of the zoo's 650-pound grizzly bear Buster, the fate of the zoo's 17-year-old ailing tiger Spar and of course Benjamin's impending bankruptcy (that we admit is over all too soon by a dues ex machina). Still, there is genuine feeling in every scene, and Crowe's choice of music (a mix of oldies with more contemporary tunes) as well as Jónsi's (of Icelandic cult band Sigur Rós) eclectic score works perfectly in complementing the mood of the film.
And even though it's tinged with sadness, the tone of the film is never depressing- Crowe making it sure that the film steers clear of both over-dramatic as well as melodramatic moments. There's hope and affirmation abound in this inspirational tale, and just because its message of acceptance and reconciliation may sound familiar doesn't mean it is less authentic or touching for that matter. It wears its heart on its sleeve, but thanks to Crowe's deft hand as well as Damon's heartfelt performance, even the cynical will find themselves moved.
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