When you enter the theater to watch Water for Elephants, there's an elephant in the room, and I'm not just talking about the 9,000-pound animal that plays a significant role in this film. In this case, the elephant in the room is expectation. For some, expectation comes from the novel of the same name by Sara Gruen, on which the film is based. For others, the expectation of chemistry from two of the most attractive actors in Hollywood takes over your thoughts.
After Jacob Jankowski's (Robert Pattinson) parents die in an unexpected car crash the day he plans to take his final exams as a veterinary student at Cornell, he decides to skip town. Jacob hops a train belonging to the Benzini Brothers Circus and after proving his skill with the animals, joins them as a veterinarian. Jacob must work closely with the circus' star attraction, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), while trying not to get on the bad side of August (Christoph Waltz), the ringmaster and Marlena's husband.
In every love triangle, there are sure to be fireworks. While some chemistry produces large, grand explosions in the sky, other combinations of actors merely fizzle out like a dud sparkler. The little chemistry between Jacob and Marlena didn't send too many sparks flying and it seemed Witherspoon and Pattinson had more chemistry with the elephant than with each other. The 10-year age gap between Pattinson and Witherspoon may have contributed, or maybe they just have a thing for elephants. As we learned last year with The Tourist, putting together any two Hollywood hotties doesn't add up to big-screen fireworks.
By book-ending the film with Jacob as a 90-year-old man (Hal Holbrook) telling the story of the Benzini Brothers' circus tragedy, director Francis Lawrence binds the film in a familiar cinematic way. The strategy has been utilized successfully many times before in classic love stories like The Notebook and Titanic. While the inclusion of old Jacob wasn't necessary, it surely played its part in wrapping up the story neatly.
While I can't speak for the expectations of many viewers who've read the novel, I can say I was a bit disappointed in the lack of chemistry between the film's leads. Though Witherspoon and Pattinson may not have sizzled together, the story itself, as well as the beautiful cinematography and the spectacle of a Depression-era circus all contributed to my enjoyment of the film. Individually, the actors did a fine job, even if they connected more with the elephant than with each other.
Water for Elephants
Starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
Directed by Francis Lawrence