ZOOM – Fantastic Fest

Zoom is a very clever film. Where you fall in terms of appreciation will likely have to do with your tolerance of ‘clever’ as an identifying characteristic of a film. Zoom constantly doubles back in on itself, undercutting its own moments of sincerity, and I remain somewhat unconvinced that the glibness and artifice has a central thematic or emotional spine.

Which is not to discredit the film itself or any of the craft and care that went into it. For starters, the film is fucking gorgeous, with director Pedro Morelli taking painstaking care to give each of the sections its own distinguished visual landscape. And the script by Matt Hansen is witty and bawdy in equal measure, earning huge laughs throughout from my packed audience.

But even as I was laughing along with the film (and, I want to underline this, Zoom is a comedy that succeeds in being very, very funny, so take all the rest of this as noodling underneath that very important core) there was a hollowness that was nagging at me. Part of that is my own natural disconnect with films that lean heavily on the ‘meta’ aspect. Stories about stories are a wonderful thing, but stories that are constantly poking you in the eye with their own fraudulence often exhaust or outright annoy me.

Zoom never got to that point, thankfully. Its triptych of stories are each fun and energetic, loaded up with game cast members that have a lot of fun with the various contortions and permutations that Hansen’s script puts them through.

Alison Pill brings her comedic-deadpan A-game to her role as Emma, a nice girl who works designing fuck-dolls that Tyler Labine delivers. All that working with gruesomely perfect silicon bodies has left Emma with some body issues, and she craves breast implants. In her spare time, she writes a comic about her ‘dream man,’ a Casanova film director, whose life comes to life through gorgeous animation. Voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal, Edward is a rock star action director hoping to transition into artistic cinema with his movie about a depressed model, Michelle, (played, in live action, by Mariana Ximenes) hoping to transition into an artistic life by fleeing her dickhead husband and writing a novel, a novel about a nice girl named Emma who designs fuck-dolls and pines for bigger breasts.

See what they did there?

Zoom benefits from a fairly amazing cast, all of whom seemed tuned to what Hansen and Morelli are doing, tonally. Pill’s got those great silent movie eyes, and some of the biggest laughs of the very funny Zoom come courtesy of her baffled stare. She’s supported ably by Labine, who is given maybe the broadest shifts to play and handles it with aplomb.

Even in animation, you can tell that Bernal is enjoying getting to be funny, and the audience I was with howled with every fresh indignity that he endures after a *ahem* highly personal calamity befalls his person.

I’m not as familiar with Ximenes, but she acquits herself nicely. But her story is maybe the one that I’m most struggling with because…it’s bad. It’s phony and obvious and ponderous and runs through every single cliché of an ‘artistic’ movie right down to the lesbian subplot and the pedantic, ‘deep’ closing monologue.

But then they have characters in the Edward story make those exact same criticisms. And in the Emma story, every phony line of dialogue and every groan-worthy plot contortion (it eventually morphs into a crime farce) is justified inasmuch as the words are coming from ‘Michelle,’ and Michelle isn’t much of a novelist.

It’s hard to get your bearings, is what I’m saying, and if the point of these stories is to have them be, well, bad, then that’s just unengaging. Edward’s is the only story that is spared this kind of treatment, and unsurprisingly, it’s the story that hits most consistently and seems paced properly. The other two move in fits and starts and meander (and, again, other characters point this out) and Zoom itself begins to drag.

Like I said at the top, Zoom is a comedy that is very, very funny, and so it is entirely satisfying on that level and should be seen. But my own personal impatience with this particular brand of film won out in the end. Morelli and Hansen are both clearly wildly talented, and hopefully whatever they do next can set aside the artifice.

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the author

Brendan Foley lives in Massachusetts, where he has made a habit out of not knowing what he's doing. He'd like to make a career out of it. You can follow his ramblings on Twitter: @TheTrueBrendanF, and his ramblinger ramblings on Tumblr. Three years from now, it will be revealed that he was dead the entire time.