En résumé : Acquérir un zoo peut servir de nouveau départ pour une famille après un deuil difficile. Et pourquoi pas ? Ce film a la capacité d’émouvoir et faire sourire, mais il se perd trop souvent dans le melodrame.
Some days, a good dose of wildlife, even if it is on the big screen rather than face-to-face, can do a world of good to the morale. Today was just one of those days, thanks to Cameron Crowe’s latest production, an adaptation of Benjamin Mee’s autobiography, We Bought A Zoo. I much prefer this title to the bland French version - A Fresh Start - although I suppose the French version smacks a little less of spoiler alert. But yes, in this film Matt Damon plays the recently widowed Benjamin Mee, and ends up buying a zoo in a bid to help cheer up his fourteen-year-old son and much younger daughter.
It’s quickly clear that the family are in for a bumpy ride. Benjamin’s moody son Dylan (Colin Ford) isn’t too impressed at being stuck out in the sticks with only grumpy bears, tigers and other magnificent flesh-eating creatures for company. Moreover the zoo is a money-draining dilapidated mess, as Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson), harried zookeeper extraordinaire, is at pains to point out. Just to add to the fun, a crazed zoo inspector is chomping at the bit to get the whole place permanently closed down.
Beyond the wildlife riff, this is primarily a muse on bereavement and how families handle it. While there are fortunately some decent comic moments to leaven things out, it’s psychologically heavy-handed stuff, not least thanks to a somewhat overwrought soundtrack. Things get especially hard-going once a shall-we-or-shan’t-we-have-it-put-down dilemma involving an elderly tiger is transformed into a desperately unsubtle analogy for Benjamin’s difficulty in letting his wife go.
The motley crew who run the zoo were both strange and somewhat two-dimensional. They often reminded me of the happy-go-lucky crew of Aardman’s latest animation, The Pirates, only minus ham nite. Notably the film’s Scottish character (Angus Macfadyen) is perplexingly overblown in his whiskey-swilling buffoonery, and only mildly entertaining. The goofy way the zoo’s staff were told to act serves as a bumbling halfway house between the zoo animals’ eye-candy role, and Matt Damon’s existential angst-fueled furrowed brow-fest.
It would, I fear, be a tad heartless not to tip my hat to the film’s sensitive depiction of bereavement, not to mention the real family’s experience on which the film is based. It’s great to know that their zoo is still going strong – and now has an order of giraffes on the way! Ultimately, while sweet and entertaining, it all frequently descends into stodge, weighed down by melodramatic, vaguely overwrought, albeit fluffy wholesomeness.