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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 10:58 am

Big Miracle: Feel good for a change

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Drew Barrymore in Big Miracle.

Ken Kwapis’ Big Miracle is the sort of film you need to see every once in a while. I wouldn’t recommend a steady diet of movies like this because a certain balance must be maintained between hokum and serious drama. But there’s nothing wrong with a feel-good movie, especially if it’s as well done as this production. Inspired by the true story that made the world’s two major superpowers temporary allies, the film recounts the struggles of three California Grey Whales that were stuck in the ice in far north Barrow, Alaska, and the strange bedfellows who banded together in an effort to free them.

Anchorage television reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) is the one who gets the ball rolling as he discovers the trapped whales while on assignment in Barrow. Initially, he’s just looking for a high-interest story that might catch the attention of a station manager in the lower 48. This story certainly does the trick and through happenstance and a bit of luck, his report is aired on Tom Brokaw’s nightly national newscast. Before you know it, the tiny town is overrun by other reporters trying to steal Carlson’s thunder, as well as a wide variety of folks who have varying reasons for wanting to save the stranded whales.

This is the film’s strong suit as we see these disparate characters come in conflict with one another, each working at cross-purposes towards the same goal. Carlson’s ex, Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), is an activist for Greenpeace who’s working with the purest of intentions as her only concern is leading the three whales – a family, dubbed Fred, Wilma and Bam-Bam – to the open sea five miles away. Oil magnate J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson) lends a hand so that his future drilling efforts might be viewed in a better light if it looks as if he’s eco-friendly. Meanwhile, L.A. television reporter Jill Jerard (Kristen Bell) leaves the comforts of sunny California to make a name for herself by covering a human interest story none of her peers want to touch. And Minnesota inventors Karl Hootkin (James LeGros) and Dean Glowacki (Rob Riggle) realize they have an opportunity to put their portable deicer on display on a world stage.

To be sure, some license has been taken by screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler with regard to the interactions between the characters. But the story, as recounted in Thomas Rose’s Freeing the Whales upon which the film is based, gets the majority of the circumstances correct. Kwapis tells the story in a straightforward manner, reminding us that sometimes truth is stronger than fiction in regards to weaving a compelling tale.

The strong efforts by the cast also help to sell this particular brand of soap. Krasinski delivers another version of his Jim Halpert character from The Office, which will do nothing for his career but is fine in this context. Danson brings the right amount of conniving charm that’s hard to resist, while Bell is just as perky as she wants to be as the go-getter reporter. Only Barrymore is a bit much, far too shrill and panicky to be taken seriously, scoring high on the irritation-meter and winning few fans along the way.

Still, the plight of the whales is the focal point and Kwapis never strays far from them, reminding us they are the straw that stirs this narrative drink and the reason for each character’s motivation. And while the ending of the film is predictable, that doesn’t make it any less cathartic for the audience. Big Miracle is full of feel-good moments as big as its swimming stars and we wouldn’t want it any other way.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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