“I like her make up. I’m pretty sure it was tested on animals.”
That’s one of the many lines the screenwriters use to show off the cold personality of Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) in the new film, “Big Miracle.” Adapted from the nonfiction book “Freeing the Whales” by Thomas Rose, “Miracle” presents Kramer as a hardcore Greenpeace activist who is unwilling to watch three whales die when they are trapped five miles inland in northern Alaska.
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Unfortunately, the heavy-handed script -- full of obnoxious lines like the one above -- and Barrymore’s poor performance undercut what could have been a decent family film.
The story revolves around three whales trapped in the middle of an icy landscape. The magnificent creature need pockets of unfrozen land to breathe and none exist around them, so they are forced to remain in a little hole that could freeze up at any time. That is until a reporter named Adam Carlson (John Krasinki) brings the story to a local television network.
His report receives worldwide attention because-- it turns out--Tom Brokaw has “a thing for whales.“ Brokaw includes the report on a national newscast and soon enough, members of the media are swarming Alaska to save three whales that would have died otherwise.
Throughout the film, the tree-hugging Kramer gets everything that she asks for because she plays the media against every political or business leader she can. When an oil man-- played by an under-used Ted Danson-- gets a permit to drill, Kramer interrupts the proceedings with a bullhorn. When the Alaskan governor doesn’t want to send in the national guard, Kramer criticizes him publicly for hating whales. But both the oil tycoon and the governor do what they can -- putting lives in danger and money at risk -- to save these three whales.
Even the Reagan administration comes in to help save the day. A White House staffer named Nancy Meyers swoops in to lend the president’s support to the cause. It seems that with George H.W. Bush running for president, Reagan wants to gain more admiration for his administration’s environmental record.
With all of this support from the unusual suspects, Kramer still isn’t happy. When it looks like -- despite everyone’s best effort -- the whales are going to die, Kramer has a plan. She tells a group of people who are helping her and trying to save the whales that if they die, she is going to tell the media that “Ronald Reagan killed those whales.”
Seriously. She says that.
And that’s the problem. Barrymore’s character is a shrill, obnoxious demagogue. And she’s the story’s hero. She’s the one we’re supposed to root for. Everyone else-- the oil tycoon, the Reagan administration, even Carlson-- are using the whale story for their own benefit. But Kramer is seen as simply trying to do the right thing.
Of course, if none of those other characters supported the endeavor, the whales would have died. But that doesn't matter much to the film's screenwriters.
It should be said that there are a few nice moments in the film. When the film’s environmental bias becomes too overt, there is a great scene where the Reagan administration official notes that Greenpeace is using the publicity from this story to rake in donations while the administration is taking major risks in taking on this case. Also, there’s a scene where Kramer tells McGraw that he isn’t as easy to hate as she thought. More anecdotes like that could have created a more stirring narrative and balanced out the story.
Unfortunately, Kramer's character is too annoying to earn our sympathies. It's hard to root for a character who is so manipulative and cold.
It turns out “Big Miracle” isn’t a miracle after all.