Film Review – Zoom
Somewhere between a satirical black comedy and an all out sex romp lies director Pedro Morelli’s Zoom (2015). Sadly, it doesn’t do either one especially well. This is a sleazy, pretentious film that tries to say something about sex, art, beauty, the Hollywood movie machine, and story telling in general, but gets buried under the weight of sex and drugs. It’s difficult to take the message seriously when one of the key plot points involves a character using a penis pump so he can engage in a threesome with two sexy women.
The pretension exists in the structure of the narrative. Matt Hansen’s screenplay tells three different stories, each one looping into the other in an ouroboros effect. Each one creates the other in a never-ending cycle. Let’s go through them just to keep things straight:
1) Emma (Alison Pill) works in shop that creates sex dolls. Most of her time is spent having intercourse with her coworker Bob (Tyler Labine) and practicing as a comic book artist. Emma is self-conscious about how she looks, wanting desperately to have large breasts so she can look like the models she sees in fashion magazines. She approaches the idea of getting implants cautiously, wavering back and forth with the idea. Meanwhile, Emma pours all of her thoughts and feelings into her latest comic book, which brings us to…
2) Edward (Gael García Bernal). Edward is the main character of Emma’s comic. He works as a famous film director, with the adoration of fans worldwide. However, Edward has run into some friction with the studio bosses over how his current project should end: they want him to go for the clichéd approach while he is adamant about going for a more artistic, ambiguous closing. At the same time, Edward finds himself in a dilemma sexually, discovering his once well-endowed tool has shrunk to almost microscopic levels. That makes things difficult when he’s confronted with the previously mentioned ménage a trois. Edward can’t focus on finishing his work if he has trouble finishing things in the bedroom.
To confound things even more, the main character of Edward’s film is…
3) Michelle (Mariana Ximenes). Michelle is a Brazilian super model who longs to become a serious writer, even in the face of her unsupportive husband Dale (Jason Priestly, where did you come from?). In an attempt to conjure some inspiration, Michelle travels to her native country, spending time with the locals and taking in the peace and beauty of the land. Not to be outdone by the other segments, part of this involves her getting into a romantic fling with a woman (Claudia Ohana). Through all this, Michelle finds the revelation she was looking for, feverishly writing out a story about a girl named Emma, who works in a shop that creates sex dolls…and on and on from there.
The only thing that makes any of this remotely fascinating is the style presented in Edward’s segment. These scenes are shot and animated as though hand drawn, like we are seeing Emma’s art come to life. It reminds me of the famous music video for A-ha’s Take On Me. Gael García Bernal is depicted realistically, but the animation drains the color, adding only splashes of neon pinks and purples. On an aesthetic level alone, it’s pleasing to the eye. I wish I could say that I had the same reaction to everything else.
What makes Zoom so frustrating is that I can see what Matt Hansen and Pedro Morelli were trying to do. The themes of individual art and self-confidence are there – about being authentic to yourself and no one else. But the satire is trapped within a structure that shoots itself in the foot. If these are the best stories these characters can come up with, maybe they’re not meant for the creative arts. The sordid material doesn’t help either. I felt bad for these actors, having to put themselves in positions for roles that are not worthy of their talents. Emma’s plot is defined entirely by her boobs. We spend all of Alison Pill’s screen time focusing on her breasts – she sits around while people judge them for being too small, too large, and vice versa. Gael García Bernal is even more of a head-scratcher. His entire existence is shaped by his sexual prowess. If he can’t satisfy a woman, then his work suffers. This is an actor who’s been in some of the most intriguing films of the last few years, playing a character basically reduced to a sex joke. And let’s not get started on Mariana Ximenes’ character. Michelle wants to be seen as an artist and not just a physical beauty, but the narrative forces her to achieve her dreams by partaking in lesbian sex, because of course that’s how it’s done.
Zoom is a pretty awful movie. These are superficial characters in shallow stories that hide under the veil of importance when in fact its sole motivation is in the sexual fantasies (or nightmares) of its makers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but don’t put a bunny on the table and then try to convince me it’s a washer machine, you know what I’m sayin’?