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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘We Bought a Zoo’ inspires laughter, tears

Published: January 20, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

“You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Benjamin Mee lives by this saying in director Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought a Zoo,” based on Mee’s memoir.

From the preview alone, I expected a somewhat slow-moving girl-meets-boy romance. (I also wanted to make fun of the title until I found out that this is also the title of the memoir.) It was definitely not what I expected, however, and it far exceeded my expectations. It was a sad tale of love lost, of a man bringing up two children alone without knowing how and of great adventure.

While I knew it would be a dramatic movie, I was caught off guard by the number of humorous lines in the film. The comedy found within the drama was surprising, but it made me love the movie even more. I found myself genuinely laughing multiple times, as the actors authentically portrayed the dynamic characters that so beautifully and often comically interacted.

I have always been a Matt Damon fan, and my love for him only increased throughout the film. He plays Benjamin Mee, a man who is simultaneously witty, romantic, and emotional. He’s always looking for adventure, which he finds by being swarmed by bees, flying into an erupting volcano and—in what he considers his biggest adventure—by owning a zoo. Throughout the film, we experience his heartbreak over his late wife and witness as he tries to move past her death while still holding onto her memory. Occasional flashbacks to his family when his wife was still alive makes the audience feel for him even more.

Benjamin knows, however, that he has to move on at some point. Scarlett Johannson plays Benjamin’s new romantic interest, Kelly, though she is not in her usual glamorous role; here she is a zookeeper. I did not love her character, as I found her to be annoying whenever she shot him flirty yet innocent looks. Still, I liked that in contrast to other semi-romance movies, they did not definitively end up together in the end. There is a sweet kiss followed by her saying maybe they can do it again on New Year’s.

Though I knew Damon and Johansson were the main actors in the film, there are various other well-known actors who appeared. One was Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning’s younger sister. I had never seen her act before, and I thought she did pretty well. She plays Lily, an energetic, love-struck tween, as well as Kelly’s cousin. When I saw Fanning’s interview on “Ellen,” however, I realized she was exactly like her bubbly character in real life, so my thoughts on her acting abilities have dwindled some.

Despite this, I found Lily’s young romance with Dylan (Colin Ford), Benjamin’s rebellious son, to be sweet. Though she definitely has a crush on Dylan, we come to see that they have more of a deep friend love, rather than a romantic one. I liked this, as it seems more real to me than two 13 year olds falling in love.

Benjamin has another child, Rosie, played by seven-year-old Maggie Elizabeth Jones. Rosie keeps her father in check, and tells him that he will be OK when he needs to hear it. She also adds cute comments throughout the film that only added to my laughter; she is adorable!

Benjamin’s brother, Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), also tries to help him, but his advice is not as well-received as cute little Rosie’s. Unlike Benjamin, Duncan is a pessimistic realist and added much laughter to the movie. From the beginning, his negativity toward Benjamin’s endeavors comes across humorously, as he grunts and moans about his brother’s decisions. The fact that Benjamin never listens to him only increases the hilarity, as he continues to go on one adventure after another. In the end, Duncan supports him, and of course this can only be portrayed through a comic visual gag: He brings the zoo a trunk full of huge, smelly fish to be used as bear food.

The combination of characters really makes the movie as touching as it is. Together these people are quirky, awkward, anxious and loving. Even Benjamin’s wife plays a part, as he tells his children the story of how they met. She’s also responsible for teaching him the motto by which he lives: Why not? These are the two words she says after he first introduces himself to her, as he wonders aloud why such a beautiful woman like her would talk to a guy like him. This final flashback only added to the tears building in my eyes, and completed the touching movie in a fitting way.

I definitely recommend that you not judge the film by its title and the somewhat boring previews. Go see it!