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Rated NR · 2011

A wretchedly cloying script by Aline Brosh McKenna (Morning Glory, 27 Dresses) gets an impressive makeover from director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire). On paper, the plot is enough to make you puke: a wealthy writer (Matt Damon), grieving after the death of his dream-come-true wife, moves his adorable little daughter and sulking teenage son into a decrepit, small-town zoological park, where their broken family is healed and dad finds new love with the resident zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson). The movie is quite enjoyable, though, redeemed by Crowe's trademark sincerity and assured handling of oddball character actors (J.B. Smoove, Carla Gallo, Patrick Fugit, Angus Macfadyen). Damon is typically fine, and Johansson surprisingly so; this seems to be the first role she's had in years that isn't all about her chest. McKenna adapted a memoir by British writer Benjamin Mee; with Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning, and John Michael Higgins. (124 min.)

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