It’s currently the season of the animal performer. Joey in War Horse and Uggie the dog in The Artist have shown that, sometimes, animal actors can provoke a better reaction than their human counterparts. But the old adage about never working with children or animals can often prove to be true, and sadly, this is the case with Drew Barrymore’s latest big screen outing, Big Miracle.
Based on a true story, the drama unfolds in Point Barrow, Alaska, a small town on the edge of the northernmost point of the United States. In 1988, the most unlikely of tales unfolded when a family of grey whales became trapped in pack ice. After a news story broke about the whales’ plight, as all eyes watched to see whether the little whale family could be saved from what was almost certain death.
An amazing story, which should translate brilliantly to the big screen, right? I mean, it worked for Free Willy, so why not Free Three Willies?
Sadly, the main thought I had after the credits rolled and the lights went up was that I actually really didn’t care what happened to the whales during or after in the movie itself. They felt too much like a background story to the overall plight of Drew Barrymore’s latest romantic drama – which, of course, follows a not dissimilar formula to most other Drew Barrymore vehicles.
What should have been an uplifting story turns into how cute and quirky Barrymore can be as Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer, and why an Earth would the main squeeze of the movie, journalist Adam Carlson (John Krasinski), not fall in love with her? You then add in four additional stories of oil baron turned good guy Liam Peterson (a criminally underused Ted Danson), journalist Jill Jerard (Kristen Bell) who is looking for that one big story to turn her into a network star, a budding romance between National Guard Tom Carroll (Dermot Mulroney) and White House worker Bonnie Mersinger (Vinessa Shaw) and the journey of Nathan (Ahmaogak Sweeney) who is learning to live a life of balance between the modern world and that of his traditional people. That’s a lot to fit into a 123 minutes, eh?
And this is the fundamental issue I have with this movie: there is no sense of urgency or edge-of-your-seat moments when it comes to the rescue itself. When we reach a huge emotional milestone three quarters of the way into the film, you just feel nothing, because the plight of the whales, which should be more than just the core event of the movie, has been so side-lined with everything else going on. You just think, “Ah well”, and move on. Not really the reaction, I suspect, Big Miracle’s makers were going for.
Aside from troubled plotting, Big Miracle’s biggest crime is the underuse of its cast. Go through the list and there are more than a handful of great character actors who are pigeonholed into sub-par parts, and don’t really give the performance you know they are capable of. Heck, even Michael Madsen gave a pretty solid performance in Free Willy, and I think he was probably only there to pay his tax bill. Here, though, it feels like showing up was probably the best the cast could muster.
I’m not expecting Oscar winning performances here, but a bit of something – anything – would be preferable to what we end up with. And considering director Ken Kwapis did a far more confident job of interweaving multiple stories with his last feature film, He’s Just Not That Into You, by making them snappy, short and to the point, I can’t help but wish he could have carried that storytelling ability over to this movie.
Overall, Big Miracle turned out to be a big disappointment. A pity.