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REVIEW: 'We Bought a Zoo' Starring Young Actress Elle Fanning

December 23, 2011

Cameron Crowe may be the last of the Hollywood romantics. He’s best known for his stories about love and longing, for films that immortalize the moment when characters bare their hearts, as when John Cusack serenades a girl with a boom box in “Say Anything” and Renée Zellweger tells Tom Cruise he had her at hello in “Jerry Maguire.” These are images of such excruciating sincerity that they invite, almost demand cynicism. Yet it’s their openness that makes them work. And while his films depend on the familiar image of the couple in love, these are relationships that exist within a larger tribe, a band, a family and now, with “We Bought a Zoo,” a menagerie.

What Mr. Crowe’s films also share is his delicate touch with actors. Ms. Zellweger has never been better than in “Jerry Maguire,” which found both Mr. Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. at their most appealing. Matt Damon, the star of “We Bought a Zoo,” is a stronger actor than those with whom Mr. Crowe often works, and the combination might initially seem off. Mr. Crowe leans toward lightness while Mr. Damon, who can do glib as well as the next star, likes to roam around in the shadows, so that even his comedies carry a sting (as with “The Informant!”). But this seriousness, which complicates his boyishness with pathos, gives ballast to a movie that might have drifted along on charm.

When “We Bought a Zoo” opens, his character, Benjamin Mee, is struggling to hold on to his family and his Los Angeles journalism career after the recent death of his wife, Katherine (Stephanie Szostak). Benjamin has yet to get a grip on being a single parent to 14-year-old Dylan (Colin Ford) and 7-year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones, a natural), but he seems strangely at ease, whether he’s fumbling with school lunches or warding off predatory moms bearing trays of condolence lasagna. He’s so self-assured that when his editor doesn’t respond to his story pitches, Benjamin just up and quits with a smile.  Read More