Billed as a “rescue adventure,” “Big Miracle” retells a true saga from 1988 about freeing a family of doomed whales from arctic ice. But this is more about family and romance among the smaller mammals lending a hand. Indigenous Iñupiat, a wildlife biologist, an Alaska National Guard helicopter pilot, an Alaska Northern oil corporation CEO, and a Russian icebreaker come together to do the right thing because, as Universal Pictures’ official site for this feel-good PG movie reminds us: www.everybodyloveswhales.com (which is also the film’s original title). The international media flock to Point Barrow to point cameras at the hole in the ice where the daddy, mommy and baby whales surface to breathe. From Greenpeace to the White House, all unite for win-win PR. Ken Kwapis (“He’s Just Not That Into You,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”) directs a big-hearted redux of the October 1988 incident. Screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler draw selectively from the 1989 book “Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event” by Thomas Rose, who was a Chicago Sun-Times VP in the late nineties. “With an accelerating logic worthy of a Preston Sturges movie, a small, godforsaken Eskimo village was turned upside down,” wrote Rose. Besides rampant alcohol abuse on the part of natives and out-of-towners, the film omits “a housefire that instantly incinerated three Eskimo children” during the onslaught of press obsessed with three “bloated aquatic teddy bears.” One carryover from Rose, though, is that everyone in the film, and I do mean everyone, openly calculates the upside of saving the whales for their own images. It’s only natural. As is the reunion of estranged sweethearts, an Anchorage TV news reporter (John Krasinski, directed by Kwapis in “The Office”) and an anti-oil activist (Drew Barrymore, playing a version of real activist Cindy Lowry); the factual meet-cute of a National Guard colonel (Dermot Mulroney) and a White House executive assistant (Vinessa Shaw); and an Iñupiat elder (John Pingayak) schooling his eleven-year-old grandson (Ahmaogak Sweeney) to listen to whale calls instead of Guns & Roses cassettes. With Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Tim Blake Nelson, James LeGros, John Chase, Rob Riggle, Stephen Root, John Michael Higgins, Bruce Altman, Mark Ivanir, Stefan Kapicic. 104m. (Bill Stamets)
“Big Miracle” opens Friday.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.