One flawed but enjoyable movie on area screens right now deserves a better fate it appears likely to get. Which is to say “We Bought a Zoo” might not be around long, given the number of screens it’s on and the crowd at a showing on the Plaza Wednesday night.
It’s predictable and over the top in many ways, and the acting isn’t much beyond the movie’s three best-known stars – Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Hayden Church – but the movie has a warm heart. You won’t miss the uplifting messages about life knowledge because they tend be repeated and then underlined symbolically once or twice.
The story is straightforward: Matt Damon stars as grieving widower who decides it’s time for a new start. He decides to leave the city and buy a home – with a zoo – in the sticks. The 7-year-old daughter is thrilled; the 14-year-old son isn’t. Father and son get into as they try to figure each other out, and really the best, the most honest, the most loving scene is when they scream at each other and begin to realize they need to hear each other, too. (It’s also the only scene with one word you can’t say on television or print in the paper, so aside from that it’s family friendly. Oh, and there are a few snakes. Hey, it’s movie about a zoo, but some people have a problem with snakes.)
The whole thing is a journey, or series of journeys within a bigger journey, or, well, you get the idea. Will they get the dilapidated zoo fixed up, inspected and open? Will anyone come? Some of our characters need triumph. Some need acceptance. Some need both. Will they find it?
By the time the obligatory Randy Newman song comes along, you might be saying this ride is about over, but the movie still evokes a tear or two, a laugh or two, and a smile or two. Damon is always solid and usually underrated, Church is funny, and Johansson is OK. In a year full of good but not great movies, this one is just fine.