A frustrating film, that is elevated by performances from Sadie Sink & Theo Rossi, Dear Zoe has just too much going on in the wrong places at times. Gren Wells gives her film a lot of heart making it still worth a viewing.
When Tess and her family suffer an unimaginable loss, she finds support from a surprising source: her biological father – a lovable slacker from the wrong side of the tracks – and the charming but dangerous juvenile delinquent next door.
Director Gren Wells does her best to spark some creative life into Dear Zoe, continually giving it heart and she zones in quickly to the importance of what is trying to be conveyed by the script. But she is heavily hampered by said script that pushes the story down avenues it doesn’t necessarily need to, ignoring the aspects that made it work in the first place. By spreading itself so thin story-wise, it hurts the overall emotional connection with the film.
Areas and characters that should be focused on are breezed by without a care, and the relentless need to try and pull at our heartstrings almost has you feeling numb. This is a good idea for a film; however, Dear Zoe tries to go for that pull once too many times, which is disappointing as you quickly realise how it never needed to do so in the first place when we have such great performances right there.
When you have someone of Sadie Sink’s talent as your lead, the requirement to have a mountain for her to climb emotionally isn’t required. She can navigate the aftereffects of the tragedy that has befallen her family and, most importantly herself. She has us like putty in her hands as Tess grapples with loss and guilt. You feel for her, and you want her to find solace and begin to learn that it is okay to carry on. She is a continual shining light in the film, adding another great performance in a stellar year for the young actress.
While Sadie Sink is the obvious stand-out, Theo Rossi also gives an affecting performance; his charisma shines through and with great chemistry with Sink, he delivers enough for you to believe in the story. It could be because he is given more time with Tess than the rest of the characters, so we see him flesh out as a character. By giving him that extra time, we get the chance to feel for him, even when we get the usual trope of the worried father seeing his daughter grow close to someone they “shouldn’t”. However, we forgive it because Rossi works so well in the role.
We seem hindered in seeing Tess’s full relationship with her mother. Jessica Capshaw has glimpses of giving a strong performance, but we do not get enough of her on the screen. One of the main threads in Dear Zoe should be the relationship between mother and daughter who have experienced such a tragedy. Combine this with Tess connecting with others, learning to accept what has happened and reconnecting with her father; then that is a hell of a story. So, to see these key aspects limited for screen time is utterly frustrating. We need those moments to fully grasp the entire family dynamic that is rushed through at the start.
This echoes throughout Dear Zoe, a series of missed opportunities in the script rob us from fully embracing the story for what it is. Leaving us with a film that should be great ends up just fine. You are engaged with Tess’s story, but not enough for it to be a memorable stand out of a film. As frustrating as it is, a decent film is hidden underneath all of it. If only the writers had reigned themselves in.
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