Dear Zoe

Review by Rich Cline | 2/5

Dear Zoe
dir Gren Wells
scr Marc Lhormer, Melissa Martin
prd Marc Lhormer, Brenda Lhormer, Peter Phok, Christopher H Warner
with Sadie Sink, Theo Rossi, Kweku Collins, Jessica Capshaw, Justin Bartha, Vivien Lyra Blair, Mckenzie Noel Rusiewicz, Tanyell Waivers, Jonathan Visser, Emmy James, Sophie Guest, Evan Coury
release US 4.Nov.22,
UK 11.Nov.22
22/US 1h34

rossi capshaw bartha

Is it streaming?

collins and sink
Bursting with big emotions from the start, this movie strains to be both smiley and meaningful. But the heartwarming sentiment leaves the central romance far less transgressive than it wants to be. Indeed, the story touches on sex, drugs and violence, then shies away from all three in a dodgy attempt to make the movie accessible to 12-year-old girls. Still, Sadie Sink's solid performance makes it worth a look.
In 2001 Pittsburgh, 16-year-old Tess (Sink) angrily blames herself for the death of her little sister Zoe (Rusiewicz), which causes problems in her relationship with her mother Elly (Capshaw), stepdad David (Bartha) and stepsister Emily (Blair). In need of space, Tess crosses town to stay with her dad Nick (Rossi) for the summer. But nice-guy Nick becomes furious when she begins hanging out with colourful stoner Jimmy (Collins) next door, who seems the only person who accepts her as she is. So now Tess feels like she's on the outs with her entire family.
As the title suggests, grief is at the core of the narrative, and yet it's rarely expressed beyond expected behaviour, leading to the usual catharses. As a result, the more interesting story angle lies in the economic gap between Tess' father and mother. Nick's working class life in a crowded house overrun with dogs is nothing like Elly's suburban happy-family existence. The point being that Elly once escaped from this part of town, while Tess is embracing it. But the script never grapples with this at all.

Sink has so much charisma that she brings Tess to vivid life, easily balancing conflicting feelings and often contradictory behaviour. As a result, Tess is hugely sympathetic even when she's being a stubborn kid. The people around her have enough presence to make an impact on Tess, even if they all feel rather one-dimensional. Rossi is particularly strong as the sparky Nick, although he never quite registers as an authentic person. And while Collins is thoroughly likeable, it's odd that he's never remotely threatening.

This is the kind of movie that uses a range of enormous issues for big plot points but ends up delivering false, unhelpful messages. The writers and director Wells repeatedly fall back on melodrama, pushing the emotionality with the full range of movie gimmickry. This leaves the whole movie feeling frustratingly vacuous, a coming-of-age story that never cracks the pretty surfaces. And Sink's superbly understated turn is the only thing that feels real.

cert 15 themes, language 2.Nov.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall