Zoom Is Too Ambitiously High-Concept For Its Own Good

By  · Published on October 1st, 2015

Elevation Pictures

Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

Alison Pill is Emma, an aspiring comic book artist who earns her living making real-girl sex dolls. She has a sexual friendship (probably more sex than friend) with co-worker Bob (the reliably comical Tyler Labine) that’s comprised of having sex in a back area of the warehouse during lunch breaks. They seem to have a mutual understanding of their relationship – Emma doesn’t really have many friends, and Bob probably doesn’t have a ton of sex, but there’s no semblance of expected exclusivity. Bob uncovers a doodle Emma made in which she drew herself as a comic-book style superhero – with the common and applicable size quadruple D’s one would find on a sketch of Wonder Woman and most other super-heroines. Bob suggests to Emma that she doesn’t need abnormally large breasts to be accepted (her current size A’s are so friendly), which, of course, suggests to Emma that she needs some abnormally large breasts to be more than just accepted.

The ideas of acceptability, the confidence that comes with comfort in ones attractiveness to suitors, and getting past body issues, drives two other stories in Pedro Morelli’s Zoom. In her frustration with Bob’s comments Emma begins to conjure her idea of a perfect man. She sketches that of a confident, passionate film director of the testosterone-y Michael Bay variety who happens to desire making his next film in more of the poetic Terrence Malick-y variety. He will be Spanish, he will be a man about town, he will say all the right things to ladies, and he will be all of this because he is Gael Garcia Bernal with a huge package.

Like Emma, Michelle (a gorgeous and melancholy Mariana Ximenes) also suffers from body issues, but it has nothing to do with confidence and self-acceptance. Michelle is a Brazilian model with aspirations of being a novelist. It’s difficult to look the way Michelle looks and be taken seriously as someone who can be strong in literary depth. By happenstance she meets a publicist while killing time at an aquarium looking at jelly-fish. The man asks her to submit some chapters of her book to him, and she does. A few days later she hears back from the man and he asks if she can send in some more – because he liked it. Michelle’s boyfriend (Jason Priestley) sees what he perceives to be a ruse to get her in bed and deeply angers Michelle. She leaves town to seclude herself and find out whether she can be the kind of artist that can transcend the stereotypes of a woman who looks as good as she does.

What each of these people don’t realize is that each is a character in another’s creations. It’s clever, because each character represents an artistic creation born out of the frustration the artist has in their own life, but that idea of a snake eating its own tail in artistic expression sounds better when you’ve had too much to drink, or reading a Keanu Reeves “What If” meme. It results in a film that looks like it wants to say a lot about how we deal with body issues and the importance of being satisfied with what you have despite external forces perceiving you otherwise, but it ends up saying more about how its storytelling concept is ridiculous in its own self-referential way.

Bernal’s film director is stripped of his huge bulge in a moment of anger by Emma as she is having to deal with being dissatisfied with how her newly-acquired synthetic bust (she now looks like the disproportioned sex dolls she makes for a living) is viewed as far too odd by Bob. The director’s ability to direct is tied almost entirely to his self-satisfaction in being able to effortlessly satisfy the opposite sex. His troubles are now projected on Michelle, the lead character in his current film and his desperate attempt to make something meaningful and deep.

Eventually, it all begins to spiral out of control as it interweaves together – and it makes a mess on all of the pages. I will give the film credit that it recognizes it’s making a mess and approaches it with a big sense of humor. However, laughing at yourself as you deviate from making something with a message into making something with a message only about itself isn’t all that funny unless you’re Charlie Kaufman and happen to be really good at that sort of thing. The film doesn’t earn the humorous lunacy it puts forth. It comes across as a movie that started as one idea and changed course midway through when it realized it couldn’t make the first idea work, and tried to write its frustrations forward.

I don’t need another movie that’s too high-concept for its own good. I get it, meaningless movies are unoriginal and worthless, we care too much about the way we look to other people, and yes, it could be cool if a movie was made about a character who drew another character who directed another character who wrote the first character. Zoom just isn’t quite as good as it wants to be de facto originality.

The Upside: Pretty good performances; the concept is at least intriguing, and therefore not boring; occasionally funny; clever mixture of distinguishable visual styles with each story type, making one look like a comic book, another as an Oscar-bait kind of picture, another as an adaptation of a comedy

The Downside: It isn’t as clever as it projects; it isn’t as funny as it desires; it becomes too much about itself

Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

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