Friday, September 2, 2016

Artistic Circle Jerk: Why Zoom Works!

The Good: Concept, Direction, Surprisingly funny, Well-acted, Artistic
The Bad: It takes a while before the interplay between the realities works, Light on character development
The Basics: Zoom is an art film that successfully blends humor and surrealism by having people in different realities create one another.

One of the nice thing about the end of Summer Blockbuster Season is that right around the time that major studios are dumping their schlocky horrors into theaters, independent film companies start their big push as the first hints of Oscar Pandering Season. After all the big special-effect driven crap that fills seats for the summer, studios begin releasing films with some substance to them. Zoom is one such film.

Zoom is a creative film that utilizes a talented cast and is likely to go largely unnoticed, despite being fun and one of the more original films in recent memory. Zoom blends stories from reality and fantasy to make a statement about the nature of substance versus idealism. Those who fear a rip-off of Cool World need not worry; Zoom is more about substance than flash (hence the use of substantive performers as opposed to Hollywood a-listers!).

Emma and Bob are working in a small factory where they custom-make sex dolls for clients. On their lunch break, they have sex, throwing off Bob's whole meal schedule. Insulted by Bob, Emma draws a comic of her ideal man. While the comic book man (Edward) takes on an existence of his own, Emma contemplates breast enhancement surgery. Elsewhere, Brazillian model Michelle gets the attention of a book publisher, who is more interested in her writing than her body - though her boyfriend Dale suspects it is the other way around. Abandoning Dale, Michelle returns to Brazil where she promptly gets drunk and falls into a relationship with a woman. Edward, in his own reality, is a director, who is creating an art film, much to the concern of the studio head (Marissa) and his co-director, Horowitz.

While Edward gets laid a lot at the club as Emma starts to feel incredibly insecure about her own body, Emma revises her fantasy in her comic book. Edward rather abruptly begins to suffer from having a micropenis. But just as Edward is having complications from Emma, suddenly Emma begins suffering consequences of Michelle's art; Michelle is writing Emma's story and suddenly Emma is delivered cocaine intended for another resident of her building. As Emma and Bob mule the coke out in a sex doll, to get the drugs to Buffalo, Edward has to reshoot his movie, which puts Dale back in Michelle's narrative. But as violence and creativity escalate, the barriers between the three realities begins to collapse in a lesson on karma and relativity.

Zoom is, smartly, self-aware in that it acknowledges the nature and risks associated with creating an art film. Director Pedro Morelli is attempting to create a poem on film and he generally succeeds. In the film's first third, there is the feeling that the two stories - Emma and her creation of Edward in a comic book - are more than enough to carry the movie. As Zoom progresses, the addition of Michelle's story makes the work interesting in a way that successfully deepens it. Michelle's story - initially an apparent throwaway ineffectively blended with the other two stories - closes the circle on the creation aspect that has the various characters creating one another.

Despite the frequent surreal nature of the film, much of Zoom is actually a comedy. Zoom has some very funny lines that make it enjoyable when the process of deciphering the visual poem is not inherently fun. Alison Pill and Tyler Labine have great comic interplay with one another and when Michelle's story is revealed to be Edward's film, the resulting scene with the head of the studio is one of the funniest of the film and from that point onward, Zoom develops incredibly well.

Zoom rapidly turns into an art film that is a parody of a dumb blockbuster movie and it works brilliantly for that. The movie develops and goes through transitions and while the film initially appears like it might be a cheap retread of Stranger Than Fiction (reviewed here!), it is actually far more effective at making a statement and an enduring work than the other film. Indeed, the only real issue with Zoom is that the characters are comparatively flat; they do not develop, so much as they are redefined to service the plot and themes of the movie. One does not so much empathize with them (though both Emma and Edward have some struggles that are easy to relate to before their stories tread toward the blockbuster ridiculous) as they understand how they relate to one another.

Despite the billing, Zoom is led by Alison Pill. Pill plays Emma and she instantly brings poise, articulation, and thus credibility to the role of Emma. Emma is creative, shy and smart, but also unfortunately insecure. Pill, best known for her role on The Newsroom (season 1 is reviewed here!), lands the subtleties of the eye roles, the stares, the physical acting of walking around uncomfortable in her new body. As Emma gets reactions on social media, Pill plays the gratification as unsure before the film goes into a more obvious direction where Emma starts getting negative attention for her new breasts.

The interactions between the animated and live-action portions make Zoom feel quite clever and the film is clever. Director Pedro Morelli executes the vision of writer Matt Hansen exceptionally well. The film is funny, self-referential and interesting in ways that make it easy to watch and enjoy, especially after the moment that Michelle's story is revealed to be Edward's movie. The blend of styles makes the realities feel distinct, though a different film grain for Michelle's story might have made it easier to recognize initially.

That said, Zoom might not be a perfect film, but it does what it sets out to do exceptionally well and it ushers in the art house film dump exceptionally well.

For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
The Whole Truth
Suicide Squad
Star Trek Beyond
Breaking The Bank


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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