Based on the New York Times bestselling novel, Water for Elephants serves as the newest dramatic non-vampire vehicle for Twilight star Robert Pattinson. A jovial elderly man named Jacob (Hal Holbrook) wanders into a circus after-hours and strikes up a conversation with its manager (Paul Schneider) regarding the famed Benzini Brothers big-top disaster of 1931. The film flashes back to the elderly man as a young Cornell dropout (now played by Pattinson who actually looks quite at home in the time period) who was studying to become a veterinarian. Lost and confused, Jacob hops a random train one night and is thrust into a world of rough-and-tumble circus folk led by testy head drunkard August (Inglorious Basterds‘ Christoph Waltz doing what he does best). August’s star attraction is his animal-riding wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) who is forced to learn how to perform with a newly purchased elephant after her pride horse is injured. Jacob is hired as the traveling circus’ resident vet and a romance soon blossoms as indicated on the poster. We know that the circus falls and that Jacob survives, but does he get the girl?
The film attempts to provoke an emotional response from its viewers, but it ultimately falls quite short. It’s no more or less effective than Hollywood’s other romantic period pieces of the recent past, The Notebook immediately springs to mind. Take it or leave it.
Water for Elephants opens wide in Philadelphia-area theaters today.