By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Where there’s a whale, there’s a way.
And it’s a good thing there is, because a family of three California gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle in 1988 desperately needed help in the the form of a miraculous rescue mission from a group of humans who do not normally cooperate.
Big Miracle is a romantic, PG-rated family drama based on this real-life international event which occurred toward the end of the Cold War, before the instantaneous news era we now find ourselves in.
John Krasinski plays Adam Carlson, a TV news reporter from Anchorage filing stories from tiny Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States. Yearning to move up the journalistic food chain, preferably by moving to a bigger market, he discovers a trio of whales blocked from migrating south to Mexico: they’re trapped under an immense slab of ice in the Beaufort Sea and in imminent danger of perishing.
When the story airs, Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), Adam’s ex-girlfriend, an animal-loving volunteer and outspoken environmentalist, immediately heads for Barrow and becomes involved, hoping to protect the whales’ rights.
When the story of the trapped whales — a mother, father, and baby nicknamed Fred, Wilma, and Bam-Bam respectively — surfaces and the media frenzy commences, the tiny and usually quiet town of Barrow is suddenly descended upon by folks ostensibly concerned with the whales’ plight.
All the participants — locals, reporters, politicians, tycoons, military personnel, inventors — as well as the reunited lovers have vested interests and ulterior motives operating, but what they ultimately realize they must do is somehow forget their differences and band together to save the endangered whales.
With a game supporting cast that includes Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, John Michael Higgins, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Riggle, and James LeGros, the ensemble manages to tell their heartfelt story without getting too terribly preachy or severe.
Director Ken Kwapis (He’s Just Not That Into You, License to Wed, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) had the good sense to stock his movie with an ensemble of comedy-savvy veterans — like Barrymore, Krasinski, and Danson — who know how to keep the tone light regardless of the subject matter, as if to undercut what could be seen as offputting zealousness.
And it works: as serious-minded and well-intentioned as the film is, it keep its sense of humor above the ice.
The whale-of-a-tale screenplay by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler is based on Tom Rose’s 1989 book, Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event. It’s about the international effort to rescue the whales that was dubbed “Operation Breakthrough.”
The script about media manipulation also celebrates family and community, both literally and metaphorically. And whether the strange-bedfellows page the screenwriters take from The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (let’s call it the “Cold War Comrades” approach) actually reflects reality or not, it works splendidly in this narrative.
Formerly titled “Everybody Loves Whales,” Big Miracle proceeds swimmingly, with the best of intentions and plenty of plot. And it features a strong sense of place, one which sends you home grateful that the temperature is double digits and that you can remain indoors if you wish.
So let’s submerge 3 stars out of 4 for Big Miracle, an honorable true-life rescue adventure about a family of marine mammals for families of land mammals seeking splashy entertainment.