Out & About

February 9, 2012

'Big Miracle' a charming family film

Who doesn't love whales? They're big, majestic and they rarely (sorry Jonah) eat people.

If whales are in peril, people just naturally want to help them, which provides the basis of "Big Miracle," a terribly titled but lighthearted and charming family film.

"Big Miracle" is more or less based on a true story from 1988, when a family of three gray whales is trapped in the ice near Barrow, Alaska.

Early freezing has cut off the path to the ocean, leaving the giant mammals with nothing but one small open patch through which they can surface and get air. Soon, even that will close up, and the whales will die.

John Krasinski ("The Office") plays Adam Carlson, an ambitious small-town news reporter who breaks the story and then watches as it becomes a national phenomenon — going viral, essentially, before there was such a thing.

Not everyone, of course, thinks that saving the whales is a good thing. Ted Danson is an oil executive who just wants to drill; the native tribe thinks the whales would be tasty, and easy to harpoon.

Drew Barrymore plays fanatical Greenpeace organizer Rachel Kramer — Adam's ex-girlfriend — who helps bring together a rescue effort, despite her own obvious flaws and personal agenda.

An unlikely coalition (whalers, the National Guard, the Soviets, Ronald Reagan, etc.) forms to find a solution, though their motives are in most cases suspect. Meanwhile a horde of media descends on the tiny unprepared village.

"Big Miracle" is undeniably corny, but it doesn't get overwhelmingly syrupy. Interspersing actual 1988 newsreel footage from Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw makes for a nice touch.

Krasinski does well as the voice of reason between multiple factions and shows a nice chemistry with Barrymore, even while his character makes eyes at a pretty reporter (Kristen Bell).

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