Movie Review ~ Big Miracle

The Facts:

Synopsis:  In small town Alaska, a news reporter recruits his ex-girlfriend – a Greenpeace volunteer – on a campaign to save a family of gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle.

Stars: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney

Director: Ken Kwapis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Alaska Transportation Captain – Peter Kalamarides

TMMM Score: (3.5/10)

Review:  In 1988, I was a tad young to remember the national headlines that inspired this movie.  Between episodes of Muppet Babies and He-Man my exposure to the nightly news was limited to, well, never.  So going into Big Miracle I was aware of the situation but not to how big of a story it actually was.  It’s a pity, then, that the story that captured the world has become a movie that makes the audience feel like they are the ones stuck in the ice.

The review just can’t begin until we get Barrymore out of the way.  For an earthy actress that has been in the business for so long it’s amazing that she can’t pull off playing a Greenpeace volunteer.  Now I like Barrymore but to say she’s out-acted by an animatronic whale isn’t accurate…she’s out-acted by THREE animatonic whales.  Even without Barrymore baby-talking her way through inane political dialogue, we would know she’s a Greenpeace volunteer because, y’know, she has unkempt hair, wears lots of frumpy clothes, and cries at the mere mention of an environmental issue.  It’s a weak performance that nearly submerges the whole film.  When she suits up and goes underwater to get a closer look at the whales I secretly hoped the film would change genres and have the whale gobble her up.

Barrymore isn’t the only culprit here.  By now I think it’s time we all admit that Bell is no movie actress.  Like Barrymore’s character, we know Bell is a news reporter because she wears tailored (80’s) suits and has big reporter hair.  Acting with no motivation or purpose, Bell never lands on an arc for her character.  We don’t know if she’s a good guy or a bad guy – to not settle on one or the other is frustrating to watch.  Also frustrating to watch are some dreadful performances by some local extras and Vinessa Shaw as a White House aide.  We know she’s a White House aide because…oh never mind…you know where this is going.

There is some good news.  Krasinki makes for an affable semi-leading man…even though he’s basically playing a similar version of the character he plays on The Office.  He works easily off of everyone else in the film and his delivery is pretty spot-on.  I’d like to see him play a darker character one of these days but for this film he is serviceable.   Danson and Mulroney are willing mouthpieces for the environmental agenda that soaks each scene and plot device but the characters appear almost as afterthoughts.

That’s the big problem with the movie.  The central story revolves around the whales and everything else is in direct service to them.  No matter then that full storylines are dropped, characters are forgotten, and things happen just…because.  Without spoiling too much…there is actually a family of four characters the film keeps coming back to that are never explained or even named.   I know they are there representing “the worldwide audience” as a whole but for all the time that the film cuts back to them I wonder if the filmmakers simply forgot to include a wrap up.

Director Kwapis never can decide on a theme of his project even though “Save the Whales” is the overreaching battle cry from opening credit to closing scroll.  It all begins to weigh the film down and feel like a two hour ad for Greenpeace.  I’m all for environmental protection but when it’s handed to us in ham-fisted ways like this it’s hard to swallow.  And that’s too bad because I think there was a decent film waiting to be made.  The opening moments have elements of mythology and tribal pride/history and I couldn’t help but thinking back to the fantastic Whale Rider when these moments would pop up.  That film used the tribal mythology as its core and let the story flow freely from that.  Were Big Miracle film to have cut out about 15 extra characters and really told the story rather than use the events as a jumping off platform for a political statement, I think it would have been more successful.