Sunday, February 05, 2012

small movie

It's not exactly surprising that "Big Miracle," saddled with an arch, generic title and directed by a filmmaker who gets no respect from the critics, was virtually invisible the day it opened. No one seemed to care.

But wait! This is a solid little movie - defiantly old-fashioned in a 1950s way and impressively untrendy - and it boasts an ace case which seems committed to the film's very transparent appreciation of animal activism.

The aforementioned filmmaker is Ken Kwapis, who made his "mark" (well, sort of) with the lost 1988 Cindi Lauper-Jeff Goldblum vehicle, "Vibes," co-directed the clever (and popular) "He Said, She Said" (1991) with Marisa Silver and has pretty much operated for the last decade or so as a house director without a house (read: a studio). Kwapis seems to operate under the radar, despite his handling of the 'tween hit, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" (2005), and "He's Just Not That Into You" (2009).

With the latter and "Big Miracle," Kwapis has worked Robert Altman conventions (huge casts, multiple storylines) into mall movies and, frankly, I've found his efforts both effective and rather appealing.

"Big Miracle" is inspired by the real-life 1988 situation that found a family of gray whales (mother, father and baby boy) stranded and trapped under the thick ice in the Arctic Circle and by the efforts of the several diverse groups who worked selflessly in tandem to free them.

It's material that Disney normally would have tackled in '88 but, for some inexplicable reason, didn't.

I'm a sucker for such stories and making this one even more irresistible and companionable is the attractive cast: A warm John Krasinski as a struggling TV journalist stationed in Alaska and an impressively authentic Drew Barrymore as a driven Greenpeacer (and Krasinski's former main squeeze), plus Kristin Bell (as another journalist), Ted Danson, Tim Blake Nelson, Vinessa Shaw, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Baker, Stephen Root, John Michael Higgins, Gregory Jbara, James LeGross, Rob Riggle, Bruce Altman, Quinn Redeker and (in archival footage) someone named Sarah Heath. Also the film casts several Inupiat natives, most notably John Pingayak and the gifted child actor, Ahmaogak Sweeney, in central roles.

Everyone is credible, which I think says a lot about Kwapis as a director of actors. And I suppose that the fact that he was able to attract impressive casts for both "Big Miracle" and "He's Just Not That Into You" says a lot about him as a human being. Actors obviously like him.

It shows.


Alex said...

Kwapis was made to be a contract director. He gets the job done, maybe not in an obviously cinematic way, but he would have flourished within the studio system.

cwharton said...

Joe! Kwapis will never be the hipster king of movies, but like Alex says, he gets the job done and without much fuss. I went to "Big Miracle" for its cast, not the subject matter, but found it most affecting.

Joe Mc. said...

I don’t quite know how to account for the overestimation and underestimation of certain directors other than to note that hysterical displays of overacting and self-seriousness are usually the ones that are rewarded with acting Oscars by the Academy and many reviewers. Subtle, low-key touches seldom get rewarded. A director who is self-effacing and subtle sually gets overlooked as well.

Peter said...

The conventional wisdom is that a mainstream film like "Big Miracle" is too compromised to be a “real,” in either a literal or cinematic sense, because it was made for a studio. But maybe this film is a valid argument for compromise.

jbryant said...

I have yet to see BIG MIRACLE or HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, but I really liked SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. Kwapis has done a lot of great work on TV, with excellent actors (THE OFFICE, FREAKS AND GEEKS, LARRY SANDERS, etc.), and he's a true cinephile, apt to name-check Antonioni and the like in interviews.

Kelly Lee Williams said...

Thank you much for watching the movie. I was Producer #2. It was my first movie role.
I started the day of the shoot at a stand-in, a line was given to me by director Ken Kwapis. It's the realization of a life long dream. Now my kids can by the DVD and say, "My dad's in this movie!"

joe baltake said...

Kelly Lee! Thanks. Good movie.

gary said...

Totally agree with you on "Big Miracle."