Zoe was essentially the complete reverse of Her with just a touch of Bicentennial Man to keep the moralistic aspects relatively grounded. Actually, saying it was “essentially” a complete reversal would be putting it lightly. Zoe explores the pathos argument surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) in a similar manner that one would expect a Freudian psychotherapist to badger their patients about how a particular event “made them feel.” The film teetered a little too close to being pretentiously “art-house,” all the while keeping the attention of the audience . . . even with the constant shaky cam.
Zoe (Léa Seydoux) works for a matchmaking firm that helps couples identify the chances of their relationship being successful, and helps its single clients find close to perfect matches. As Zoe guides clients through the survey that feeds Cole’s (Ewan McGregor) algorithm, she begins to long for the type of companionship she sees everyday. While this synopsis doesn’t seem all that intriguing, adding a couple of AI characters actually makes the story down-right appealing. In fact, Theo James makes another showing as a character that gains your respect and admiration through the duration of the film.
The acting from all three of the aforementioned talents does an admirable job of portraying the confusion of love, and the script does a wonderful job of drawing a line between the “finding the one” trope and the more realistic “for better or for worse” mentality that would help healthy relationships endure. Both of these factors kept my attention throughout the film, which is not an easy thing for the great majority of romantic dramas.
While the actors did an astonishing job at portraying their respective internal conflicts, the camera work gives the audience a sense of being a sort of voyeur rather than mere spectators. If the shaky camera is meant to make a scene (or in this case, film) feel tense or more personal, then Drake Doremus’ directing leads the audience to feel uncomfortable in their involvement with the budding romances on-screen. From stumbling through a first date, to struggling with one’s own emotions about the future of a relationship, every shot implies that most of what is seen is far too personal for the audience to be a part of. It’s one thing to give a personal aire, but it’s wholly different to bring outsiders in to what is presented as being private.
As far as romance stories go, this was actually an enjoyable and slightly uplifting example. The biggest detractor was the awkward and uncomfortable camera work. The soundtrack blended in almost too well, as it served only as ambiance to fill a scene to keep absolute silence away. Zoe is enjoyable as a film, but it doesn’t really approach any new facets of relationships or what it means to be “conscious.” For those reasons, the film is respectably average.
Begin with the end in mind.
You might be wondering why a film review would start off with a mantra often given to business majors, but I assure you the answer is quite simple: it seems that the writers had never heard of this concept before. This is especially ironic as the main character, Will (Theo James), is asked multiple times within the first fifteen minutes if he has a plan! It might have seemed a good idea at the time of the script’s initial writing, but it still begs the question of how no solid ending was dreamed up through the rest of production. An excuse of an explanation for the whole premise of the film would have been more satisfying than having the main characters trying to outrun a cloud of what could be just about anything to fit the two main theories pitched to Will throughout the course of the story.
This really is a perfect example of how important an ending is. I started watching this with exceptionally low expectations, thinking that this was an attempt to relive the “better” days of disaster movies. Instead, the film opens with a wholly unlikable professional millennial dead-set on marrying his now pregnant girlfriend, Sam (Kat Graham) . . . despite the fact that her father, Tom (Forest Whitaker), can’t stand Will. Even though that premise is as generic as corn flakes, the story progresses in such a manner that you actually come to respect and somewhat admire Will through his growth, and the same can be said for Tom. The characters in this film actually had a vague semblance of personal depth, and the acting of both characters was exceptionally well done considering the material.
Since the film is in essence a disaster movie, it would be expected that the “disaster” in question would have some sort of concrete explanation, especially since the disaster is what puts the whole plot in motion. Of course, as alluded to at the beginning of this review, the speculative “explanations” of the overarching disaster vary from a super volcano erupting, to the start of WWIII and a thousand years of nuclear winter. The plot itself is interesting since the whole story takes place over the course of a week, where somehow all of civilization breaks down to resemble The Purge by the end of the film. The cynic in me thought it could be quite likely, but perhaps nobody really knows how civilization would “realistically” dissolve in the event of an impending apocalypse.
To summarize, don’t waste your time with How It Ends. Sure, it comes with your Netflix subscription, and it does have at least one good actor (two, if you count Theo James), but those two facts don’t excuse Netflix’s acquisition strategy of throwing cash at whatever seems new and “edgy” at the film festivals. The frequency of bad films going straight to Netflix is starting to give “Netflix Originals” the same clout as “Direct to Home Video” releases, and I can’t help but wonder what Netflix as a company is thinking by investing in so many bad films…speaking of “beginning with the end in mind”.