“Zoom,” a rather terrible comedy-satire, bears the DNA of at
least two strains of terrible films. One is the kind of international
co-production that mixes disparate cinematic cultures to contradictory effect.
Here the sponsoring countries are Canada and Brazil, and if you think the
cerebral chill of the former might be nicely balanced by the tropical heat of
the latter, you haven’t encountered “Zoom”’s way of turning the unlikely
convergence into a self-canceling formula.
The second kind of terrible film are those which resemble
graphic novels. Why is it that big cartoon creations like Batman and the whole
Marvel menagerie can yield very credible, sometimes excellent movies while
graphic novels tend to produce overly self-conscious mediocrities? It could be
that comic books create their own discrete worlds which often are readily
transferred to movie form. Graphic novels, on the other hand, generally ape
movies in their form and thus end up occupying a space that’s weirdly neither
this nor that: part-graphic, half-novel, not wholly either.
“Zoom” interweaves three stories, one of which is animated,
but it’s not the latter fact that evokes the perils of graphic-novels-into-films.
Rather, it’s the whole movie’s way of nudging the viewer at every turn that the
three stories are all fictions linked to the characters in the others, a tack
that recalls the kind of too-clever-by-half, self-reflexive conceits that seem
to be by-products of the graphic novel’s hybrid nature.
Like a mutant descendant of Atom Egoyan’s “Exotica,” the
film’s first tale opens with a couple having sex in a factory that makes
life-sized sex dolls. (If you didn’t know going in that “Zoom” was part
Canadian, this scene would be a dead giveaway.) Emma (Alison Pill) is just
taking a break from her work here, but her real passion is as a cartoonist.
Working around so many anatomically superlative female figures, though, has
made her self-conscious of certain perceived deficiencies in her own form. So
she scrapes together the money for plastic surgery and emerges with two
Only problem is, when she walks down the street, men look at
nothing else. Distraught, she wants to have the
damage undone, but that will cost money she now doesn’t have, which willy-nilly
leads her into a scheme involving stolen drugs transported inside the head of a
The second tale concerns Michelle (Mariana Ximenes), a native of Brazil working in Canada as a model but with aspirations of
being a novelist. Dale (Jason Priestley), her boyfriend, disdains her literary
ambitions and says that every man who expresses interest in them is really just
trying to get into her pants. That provokes a crisis between the couple when a
publisher she’s met has a very positive reaction to the chapters she’s shown
him. To escape Dale’s control-freak impositions, she takes off for Brazil
looking for some fresh creative air. But other complications face her there,
and some follow from Canada.
In the third story, a reputable young auteur named Edward
(Gael Garcia Bernal) is trying to finish his first film for a big studio. As
luck (or convention) would have it, the bigwigs have told him they want him for
his artistic vision and will back him to the hilt, but what they really want is
a big commercial movie with his name on it. When he delivers a first cut that’s
a little too weird and arty, he’s in trouble. And that’s doubled by the fact
that he’s not able to sexually satisfy the female studio chief. All of which
results in his being ordered to shoot a climactic action scene in, guess
where … Brazil.
The latter story is the one that’s animated (i.e., it was
shot using real actors, but then converted to animation). And if you haven’t
guessed already, it’s a cartoon because it’s the creation of Emma from story
one. But Emma herself is also a creation—of Michelle from story two.
This kind of tricky narrative circularity is no more clever
or compelling that it sounds. Most of all, it’s a sophomoric game that’s very
obvious early on. It can’t rescue story elements that are fast-paced
but banal and contrived throughout, with characters that are never more than one-dimensional.
Actually, there’s one exception to the latter statement, and
it’s the best thing about “Zoom,” which was written by Matt Hansen and directed
by Pedro Morelli. Though visually reduced to cartoon form, veteran Canadian
actor Don McKellar delivers a very sharp and droll performance as Edward’s
industry-savvy assistant. McKellar’s dialogue, in fact, is so good that one suspects
he may have contributed much of it himself.