We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Bone-dry sex comedy starring Peter Sellers as a middle-aged man who blackmails his soon-to-be-married secretary into sleeping with him for a week
In 1970 Hoffman put a fresh spin on the sexual revolution with its story about a middle-aged boss who blackmails his young secretary into spending a week alone with him. Its sharp observations on the theme of youth being wasted on the young struck a chord with the generation who missed out on all the fun.
Thirty years on and Hoffman is, at times, positively creepy. Like Miss Jones (Cusack) we fear the worst and, to begin with at least, the cold, unlovable Mr Hoffman (Sellers) does little to dissuade us of this assumption. He admits to his secretary that he is sexually frustrated, calls women "fallopian tubes with teeth" and when she visits the bathroom tells his quarry to "get ready to be fertilised". Yet, despite all the sexual insinuation it transpires that all Mr Hoffman wants is to be with her, admire her legs as they stand at his kitchen sink and breathe in her smell.
Hoffman is odd; it's also wickedly smart. Slowly, and sweetly, the reasons for all the strange behaviour reveal themselves and the odious Mr Hoffman becomes a moderately likeable human. As the mood lightens so does the comedy - but it is hardly romantic comedy as we know it today. Sellers is at the peak of his powers, wonderful in a bittersweet role that demands him to be both darkly comic and gentle, mournful yet mischievous. Cusack offsets him brilliantly - skittish and ditzy against his hound dog solemnity.
The cinematography is also terrific and often loaded with metaphor, like a small scene when the couple visit the Harrods Food Hall and Cusack, looking innocent and lost, is framed against a backdrop of vast sides of pork. Or the opening titles which, to the soundtrack of Matt Monro, follow Miss Smith on her journey across London to Hoffman's flat.
Despite it's dry humour and bizarre morality Hoffman deserves to be rediscovered.
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