Post-disaster comebacks are tricky things. Cameron Crowe’s last flick, Elizabethtown, was liked by nobody and even fewer people paid to see it – so where now for his headily romantic, none-more-unironic aesthetic?
Well, changes are few, but he’s stuck it in a zoo. Loosely based on real (British) events, WBAZ sees Californian journalist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) walk out on his job after his wife dies.
In search of a new start, he takes his offspring – surly Colin Ford and cute Maggie Elizabeth Jones – to live in a new home that comes complete with a rundown wildlife park, which he decides to renovate with the aid of absurdly non-shitstained zookeeper Scarlett Johansson.
You could doodle the rest of the plot on a napkin during a phone conversation. Zoo is eminently mockable, and you can see the heart-tugging cogs whirring furiously, but it does just about work. Damon’s presence helps: compared to Crowe’s last leading man (one Orlando Bloom), he’s an Olivier, and he ably sells his credibly handled grief.
He also brings the necessary light touch to the knockabout mishaps that ensue as the zoo is readied for opening day. True, there seems to be a strange shortage of actual animals, and a few more of Thomas Haden Church’s (Benjamin’s sceptical bro) wisecracks would’ve been welcome.
But season Damon’s likeable performance with tolerable child actors (including Elle Fanning as a girl who takes a shine to Ford), Crowe’s instinctive warmth of spirit and usual jukebox skill and you have an inoffensive confection that, while hard to recommend highly, is equally tough to dismiss.
It’s slight, sure, and there’s a better, less-glossy film buried in the material, but warm performances redeem Crowe’s agreeable return.