Saturday, April 14, 2012

Big Miracle (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Big Miracle

Seeing "Big Miracle" is like jumping into a heartfelt moving story only to realize that you are suddenly surrounded by sugary lukewarm water. It had me at the first plunge and  it is a pity that it progressed, or rather regressed into a bit of lowbrow schmaltz that had me shaking my head and thinking of an environmental version of "Entertainment Tonight".  "Big Miracle" is an odd mix of compelling story and tepid kitsch that  flips upside down in the effort to be too accessible to the current Pop culture news cycle. 

It need not have gone to that much trouble.

Drew Barrymore is quite likable in her fictional role as Rachel Kramer based on  real-life environmentalist Cindy Lowry. Barrymore is authentic, charismatic and nicely understated in her quest to save  a pod of whales from being entrapped in ice near Barrow Alaska in  the late 80s. There are none of her trademark "Oh my Goshes!" here. This is simply a woman who cares about what she does and Barrymore honors her passion faithfully with restraint and subtlety.

We also get John  Krasinski (The Office) as a congenial slightly befuddled young reporter Adam Carlson who is usually invariably nice. The repartee between Krasinski and Barrymore never strays into surprising territory. Both characters are a too moderate and predictable for that. This is not laugh track territory but it's close. I was hoping for spunk and spice. The most enjoyable rise we get out of Barrymore is her insistence to dive into the freezing water. She is adamant and uncompromising---an Ayn Rand of the sea. At one point Adam says: "You do what you want, don't you?"

"Yes." Rachel admits. 

If only there were more exchanges.

A definite highlight is Ted Danson as the slightly comical oilman J.W. McGraw. McGraw is stubborn and immovable. He is the Man You Love to Hate, but then all of a sudden McGraw  might see an outline of a tail in the ocean and then go to mush. McGraw is all granite around the heart in public but in private he is sly and affectionate with Kramer.

Strange bedfellows to be sure, but Danson plays it perfectly. Such dramatic back and forth show this film at its best. 

We get some sweeping shots of whales in their grandeur, as well we should. At one point Barrymore goes down and touches the whale and there are a few anthropomorphic glances here and there, but not so frequent as to seem overly sentimental or annoying. That being said, the baby whale breaking through the ice at just the right moment with Barrymore overcome did remind me of E.T. and Gertie.

We are also treated to some pointed words between the Inupiac people and Rachel Kramer. These segments combined with the political manipulations nearly elevate the film to a provocation, rather than a pedestrian  family tale of Environmentalism. Even comedian Rob Riggle does his best here as a clueless de-icing entrepreneur. He has the sleight of hand required  to make average nonchalance appear entertaining.

But here's where the film becomes disturbing and bizarre to me and it all happens in an instant.  After the film's climax, there is a follow up story about the whales and who utters the segue way? 

Sarah Palin. 

To see her in an environmental film, be it with humor or seriousness is quite nonsensical to me, laughable to others, and perhaps downright upsetting to some. ( Unless you are a Palin fan)

Here is a woman who by her own admission, unapologetically shoots wolves from her helicopter. Her cameo defies rationale for me, even if she was a sportscaster at Barrow. What on earth or outer space was Ken Kwapis thinking? As Palin is the last image on film, the cameo runs the risk of undermining a very real message, given her stance on drilling and wolf sport.

Oh Well... 

Perhaps , I would do better to ponder the mystery of the Titanic or the second installment of "Atlas Shrugged."

Despite this jarring tabloid incident however, "Big Miracle" entertains as it informs. It is a valentine to the cetacean set that only intermittently gets bogged in by what feels a saccharine sea.  

Write Ian at

No comments: