SDIFF: Dear Zoe

Title: Dear Zoe
Director: Gren Wells
Starring: Sadie Sink, Theo Rossi, Kweku Collins
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Runtime: 1 hr 34 mins

What It Is: 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.

What We Think: Starting off with the first film of our SDIFF coverage, Dear Zoe tells the heartbreaking story of a teenage girl dealing with grief, maturity, and young romance – all of which becomes tangled in less than an hour. The opening 10 minutes are indeed gripping, with an effective montage that contains brilliant editing and cinematography that blossoms to life as the main tragedy unfolds. It’s a bit of a disappointment that those same editing choices are barely present for the rest of the film, along with disjointed pacing and a questionable romantic plot thread that distracts from where the film’s own story first began. There is an argument to be had here, however, that that same distraction parallels with our main character wanting to forget the tragedy from the beginning of the film – but in its execution it feels like a desperate attempt to inject color into a bleak and darkened landscape.

The color actually comes in through the film’s performances. Sadie Sink is a promising young talent (The Whale, sights are on you) who plays the vulnerability and angst of her character quite well. The supporting cast lends itself to the story in the best way they can, with standouts like Theo Rossi (steals every scene he’s in, marvelous) cobbling together a charm/depth the story sorely needed. In all honesty, if you decide to go into this one blind without having seen any of the promotional material, it’ll be a fruitful first watch for the most part. Unfortunately, its nothing that can be revisited after the fact.

Our Grade: C; With lovely lead and supporting performances, but creative editing choices that after a roaring start are dashed upon the rocks of melodramatic bliss, Dear Zoe is a mixed bag – better to go into this one expecting less than more.