Faced with a life changing experience, people often act in ways they have not done before. Whether buying an open top sports car, taking up a new hobby or basically just reassessing their lives.
Benjamin Me (Damon) is forced to make these choices following the tragic death of his much beloved wife and mother of his two children.
Luckily his daughter Rosie Me (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), a seven year old going on forty, is very supportive. Arguably the cutest movie child ever, with screen charisma well beyond her years, she almost acts everyone else off the screen.
However, Benjamin’s son is another matter. Dylan (Colin Ford) is moody, with cloudy sullen expressions and seemingly just one step away from a trenchcoat and an automatic assault rifle. With the art projects he produces, it is no wonder he keeps getting expelled from school.
Benjamin believes a move would do the family some good, putting some distance from all the ghosts and the places he and his wife shared. Finally settling on the property of his and Rosie’s dreams, there are two slight catches.
Number one, Dylan considers this banishment to the wilds as tantamount to death. This can be overcome, no biggie. After all, Dylan hates everything and everyone, so one more thing will not matter.
The second point though is more challenging, the house comes attached to a Zoo, with a specific requirement to keep trading, otherwise the animals go to the great enclosure in the sky.
We later get to meet the eclectic group who run the establishment, now under Benjamin’s inexperienced care. Kelly (Scarlett Johnasson) is in charge and knows everything that needs to be done, including keeping the inspector Ferris (Higgns) happy, with or without his rather suggestive extending tape measure.
We have various keepers, all with minor quirks and foibles who help to jolly the story along, there are enough trials and tribulations to keep the audience happy but the end result for most, will not be in serious doubt.
There is a feeling that all the character arcs are completed rather neatly but the story is sound, based on true events on Dartmoor in the UK, here transplanted to a distinctly sunnier and American audience centered, Southern California.
The acting is solid, as mentioned before, young Jones as “Rosie” has more looks and expressions that any seven year old should possess, clearly a bright future awaits her on this evidence. Johansson is the potential love interest but this is largely downplayed, although Johansson is sexy enough without also dressing her in a Zoo uniform.
Thomas Hayden Church as Benjamin’s brother acts as the voice of reason and gets some good lines and we also meet Elle Fanning, who soothes Dylan’s troubled brow. With less to do here but showing good promise after her excellent appearance in “Super 8”.
Matt Damon provides a likeable everyman performance, dialing down the star wattage and this anchors the film, allowing the more eclectic characters to bounce their eccentricities off the main character.
The film possibly suffered at the box office following the unrelated intentional release of many exotic animals by a Mentally Ill American Zoo owner around the time of the films release. Unfortunately, local law enforcement “contained” the problem by shooting dead many of the released animals in the interests of public safety, not the best advance PR for a film of this type.
A good family film, based on a true story albeit “embellished” and transplanted to an American setting.
Harmless and wholesome gentle entertainment driven by Matt Damon’s easy star power.