As far as family-friendly entertainment goes (minus your animated selections), there are far too many duds that leave the adults exiting the theater questioning why they just spent two hours of their weekend stifling the urge to tear their hair out, due to the horrendous movie choice of their eight-year old. Still, every once in awhile there is a movie that is reasonably entertaining for both the kids and the adults, and doesn’t make those of us that have already hit puberty feel the need to rip our eyeballs out of our faces.
Big Miracle is a real-life inspired film about three California blue whales whose lives are in danger, due to the abnormally rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle. Their fate is determined not only by the residents of Barrow, Alaska, whose survival depends on much of the area’s natural resources, but also by other formidable foes, such as staunch anti-environment businessman J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson).
For small town reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski, The Office) of Anchorage News 2, the chances of catching a big break while reporting life and style stories from the northernmost town in Alaska are slim to none. While filming for his final story before departing Barrow, Adam spots something in the background of the camera that catches his eye. He discovers three blue whales, trapped in an ever-shrinking opening in the ice. Adam quickly puts together report on the whales and sends it off to his producers in Anchorage, silently hoping that this could possibly be his ticket to the “lower 48.” Soon after, the story explodes on the media front, and becomes a source of suspense, concern, and passion for people around the world, sending scores of story-hungry reporters Adam’s way, seemingly thwarting any chance of him making it big on the story he broke.
When Greenpeace advocate and Adam’s former flame Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) sees Adam’s report on the whales, she immediately sets out to do something about the situation, and makes her way to Barrow, along with hundreds of other reporters and concerned whale-lovers.
Expected challenges are met with unexpected help from surprising places, as volunteers persevere to save the whales from the icy grave that is certain to be their fate.
There is a lot about this movie that makes it surprisingly enjoyable. First, the stars of the show – Fred, Wilma, and Bam-Bam. If I hadn’t read prior to attending the movie that the whales were created using CGI, I would have stupidly thought that they were real. But that is truly how amazing they looked on screen, especially when they interacted with the humans above water. While there were certainly different scenes when they appeared to look more real than at other times, for the most part, the animation was thoroughly convincing.
Additionally, the movie is brimming with great bits of wit and humor that feel real, not forced. For instance, when the mad rush of reporters make their way to the small town of Barrow, they are haggled with by the locals, who charge them $500 cash for a night at the only hotel. Additionally, the one restaurant that is in the entire town is Amigos, a Mexican restaurant where they, after the influx of tourists occurs, charges $20 for a breakfast burrito.
The acting in this movie was definitely hit-or-miss. John Krasinski brings a kind of comfort to the screen that makes watching him effortless. He slips into the character of Adam with ease; however, the character isn’t very deep, and there isn’t much character development that occurs on which to really gauge his performance. Newcomer Ahmaogak Sweeney plays Nathan, a young Barrow native, whose life as a traditional Eskimo is greatly influenced by the modern world, a rift that affects his relationship with his grandfather. His performance is impressive for this being his debut film. For such a young actor, he brings a natural ease to the comedic situations his character is used for throughout the movie.
Ted Danson portrays businessman J.W. McGraw. While I usually enjoy Danson’s presence on screen, this character seemed like an awkward fit for him. While he certainly projects the image of a multi-million dollar businessman, every time he appeared on screen, he threw off the dynamic, and left me wondering if he could have possibly been a last-minute replacement for the role.
Additional cast members include Kristen Bell as Jill Gerard, a serious reporter from L.A., who comes to Barrow ill-equipped for the sub-zero temperatures. Dermot Mulroney portrays a no-nonsense National Guard colonel, enlisted by the president to help free the whales from the ice.
The biggest flop was by far the casting choice of Drew Barrymore in the role of Rachel Kramer. From the first scene she is in, the audience has to watch her strain to portray the most simple of emotions – and she never succeeds. At one very dramatic point in the movie, she breaks down in tears; but instead of coaxing me too feel her emotion, all she does is make me wonder when her face will stop twitching so erratically. I could go on, but I think that for anyone who has seen a Drew Barrymore movie post-Never Been Kissed, you will understand what I mean, 100%. In the grand scheme of things, her performance doesn’t kill the entire movie for me; however, it is part of why I rated the movie lower than had an actor with an ounce of real, pure emotion had portrayed Rachel instead.
Some other noticeable issues were with continuity, especially considering things like wardrobe and regional research. While I appreciate that the costume department didn’t go all 1980’s Full House on the cast, there were some definite issues with wardrobe continuity – specifically, Ted Danson‘s glasses. Unfortunately, the choice of black thick-rimmed, rectangular Ray-Bans didn’t really say 1988 to me. Additionally annoying was the over-the-top Minnesotan accent by the character of Karl Hootkin, played by James LeGros, who in fact is a Minnesota native. While I admit to having an unusually thick Minnesooootan accent for a Millennial (most of the twenty-something’s here make fun of my accent), it perturbs me greatly when it is overdone, especially on screen (think Fargo).
Though perfect by no means, Big Miracle succeeds in being a warm-hearted family-friendly flick that doesn’t leave you feeling like you wasted your Saturday afternoon.
Big Miracle – 6.5/10