A comedy with youthful wonderment on its side, the latest film from perpetual teen Cameron Crowe heals a broken family in the quasispiritual gaze of the natural world. (It’s basically The Tree of Life, decoded.) Widowed father Matt Damon takes his two children out of noisy Los Angeles and plunks down his savings on 18 acres of sun-dappled green, also the home of a rundown zoo with tigers, birds and a highly symbolic bear. Before you frown in disbelief, know that a version of this story actually happened in the English countryside; no word on whether a creature as lovely as blond-haloed farm girl Elle Fanning (Super 8) graced that compound too.
You wait for the unpersuasive frown lines to work their way out Scarlett Johansson’s knit brow (her workaholic zoo staffer, suspicious of the newcomers, plays a little like her early turn in The Horse Whisperer) and for everyone to bond. Too much of the movie feels predestined—down to the rainstorm on opening day—and subplots involving budding romance end up forcing what’s implicit. Crowe, meanwhile, still can’t stop abusing his vinyl collection; the aural wallpapering of Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and others will surely please postboomer fans who haven’t quite gotten the hang of silence.