See if you can keep up. Emma (Alison Pill) is an awkward wannabe artist working in a Canadian sex doll factory. One of her drawings is of her dream guy, Edward (Gael Garcia Bernal), an action movie director trying to make an arthouse film in Brazil. His movie centers on Michelle (Mariana Ximenes), a former model who gives up that life to flee to Brazil and become a writer. Guess who Michelle is writing about? A lonely body-obsessed woman named Emma, who happens to work in a sex doll factory. Get all that? Such is the interconnected Kaufman-esque narrative in Zoom, a visually-arresting yet ultimately empty bauble from Brazilian filmmaker, Pedro Morelli. Penned as a sort of triptych by Matt Hansen, it's expected that each individual story would be less than the sum of its parts, but when taken as a whole the film doesn't amount to much, either.
The problem is that Zoom is so concerned with managing its complicated narrative that none of the quirky array of characters ever feels genuine. They come across as figments of a story rather than people. In all fairness, Hansen may have meant for that to be the case given the circumstances, but it doesn't make for characters we can actually care about when each individual storyline converges. There are charms to be found in each tale, though, especially in the case of Emma. She's carrying on a purely sexual relationship with her co-worker Bob (Tyler Labine), an insecure oaf who can't stop himself from body shaming her. Emma's solution to be sexier is to get huge breast implants, a decision she immediately regrets when men start ogling her goodies. Bob is sickened by them, too.
Morelli shows a deft hand at switching up visual styles so as to keep the audience on their toes. Emma throws herself into her art and the story of Edward, who has been confronted with possible failure when the studio (Jennifer Irwin voices the sexy studio rep, Don McKellar is Edward's grubby producer) rejects his artsy new film. He's also dealing with a severe case of erectile dysfunction, caused by Emma erasing his penis in a fit of rage over her breast issues. Edward's story is told entirely in rotoscopic animation, similar to Richard Linklater's Waking Life, popping with bold colors and energy. Unfortunately, that energy isn't matched in Michelle's story, which is painfully dull and probably should have been animated to help save it. She runs away from her uncaring, jealous husband (Jason Priestley) to Brazil where she experiences a creative awakening, which plays out in a way that will put most to sleep.
The film works best when Hansen and Morelli aren't laboring to connect every single thread and simply have fun with the premise. Emma's story takes a number of unexpected twists, one involving a client with a very specific sex doll request, and another involving a large quantity of drugs. When those two things collide it's hilarious. Edward's sex pump escapades are also worth some laughs, while there's insight in his creative frustration. Neither character gets nearly the amount of attention they deserve and desperately need. Meanwhile, every time Michelle's story returns the entire movie comes to a dead halt. There's nothing to learn from her experiences and certainly nothing for us to be entertained by, and it's also where Morelli seems the least motivated visually.
The finale is a nearly incomprehensible collision between the real and surreal, with events on the page bleeding over into the real world. If Kauman's Adaptation taught us anything it's that these kinds of meta-narratives can be chaotic yet still have real world emotion. Zoom doesn't come close to achieving that, but for a film celebrating creativity it's at least imaginative.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5