Big Miracle, PG, 107 mins
★ ★ ★
Big Miracle is an ’80s-style movie and I mean that in the best possible way. There is an agreeable love story, a father/son subplot, haircuts and jumpers that bring that era to life (shudder), and a real ’80s galvanising animal event in the form of whales in jeopardy. Ryan O’Neal in his prime would have been ideal to star.
Instead we have John Krasinski – an actor impossible to dislike. He’s played affable everymen in a host of films, acquiting himself admirably in the American version of Office as a Yankee Martin Freeman. Here, he plays TV reporter Adam Carlson in deepest Alaska, desperate to get down to the lower 48 and hit the big time in LA. Inadvertently he discovers three gray whales trapped in the ice – a mother, father and baby unable to reach open water to migrate south.
Drew Barrymore lets her roots show quite literally as the inelegant and tenacious Greenpeace campaigner Rachel Kramer, Adam’s ex. Ted Danson is the oil magnate who is both Rachel’s nemesis and unlikely ally, Kristen Bell plays a glamorous California TV reporter jonesing for her first big story.
The small story of the whales becomes a big story, capturing the imagination of the public and going all the way to the White House and the Kremlin. Everyone pulls together to try to save the whales as winter’s ice thickens – will they succeed?
The film is billed as a family movie and its messages couldn’t be more wholesome. It urges us to value authenticity, nature, plain-spoken honesty, and conviction. Even the tempo of the film reminds me of ones I watched during the ’80s – slower pace, cliffhangers that don’t involve explosions or superpowers.
Because of this and the different story strands, it works best for slightly older children. My 8-year-old enjoyed it, but I think children 6 or under might struggle to sit still through it, unless they are big wildlife fans. The name too has a soft-pedal appeal – before the screening, I kept having to look it up to remind myself what we were seeing. Next time, guys, I dunno…put “whale” in the title. No need to be subtle – it’s a family film pitched to appeal to kids.
SPOILER ALERT: My daughter seemed engaged enough when we saw it but it wasn’t until a few weeks later when we saw a trailer for the film that she remarked that she had enjoyed it and wanted to see it again. “They save the whales at the end, except for that baby.”
Big Miracle (I just had to glance back at the top to verify I had that right) also offers a good jumping-off point for talking to kids about ecology and how we interact with wildlife and the environment. For those of us who remember the moment when news of the real whale drama dominated headlines, there’s interesting original TV footage interspersed with credits at the end. Beyond the courage and determination of everyone involved, it also demonstrates that yes, everyone really did once have their hair cut like that.
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