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D: Pedro Morelli / 93m

Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alison Pill, Mariana Ximenes, Tyler Labine, Don McKellar, Claudia Ohana, Michael Eklund, Jennifer Irwin, Jason Priestley, Clé Bennett

A worker in a factory that produces state of the art love dolls. A movie director trying to make an artistic masterpiece. A model who discovers she has a talent for writing. Three people who aren’t connected. Or are they?

That’s the question you’ll be asking yourself if you watch Zoom, a freewheeling, energetic look at three lives that may or may not be intertwined, and one of which is presented in the same rotoscopic animation style as A Scanner Darkly (2006). Unafraid to take chances with its narrative, the movie invites the viewer along on a cleverly structured, and constructed, meta-ride that rewards them over and over again as the movie progresses. It’s a likeable, good-natured movie that appears to veer off in unlikely directions in an effort to be “different”. But this veering off is a major part of the movie’s charm, and while some twists and turns may seem frivolous, they all add to the huge amount of fun that can be had from Matt Hansen’s lively screenplay.

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It certainly begins in an unexpected fashion, with two workers at a love doll factory, Emma (Pill) and Bob (Labine), having sex surrounded by the fruits of their labours. It’s both funny and disconcerting to see Emma and Bob being “watched” while they copulate, but it’s done in such a matter-of-fact way that the disconcerting aspect soon goes away (even if the love dolls’ voyeuristic perspective doesn’t). Alas, Bob’s post-coital attempts at conversation soon fall flat and he makes unflattering comments about the size of Emma’s breasts. An aspiring comic book artist, Emma has drawn a picture of herself as a voluptuous warrior princess; using this and Bob’s attitude as a spur for doing so, she goes ahead and has a breast enlargement.

Emma has also been chronicling the story of a movie director, Edward (Bernal), as he nears completion of his latest feature. Edward is known for making popular action movies but wants to make an artistic statement this time round, a fact he’s trying desperately hard to hide from studio head Marissa (Irwin). Meanwhile he lives a hedonistic lifestyle, often bedding two women at the same time. When Emma decides to put an end to this behaviour by severely reducing the size of his penis, Edward’s resulting loss of confidence begins to affect his ability in making his movie. And when Marissa finally sees a rough cut that ends too abruptly for her liking, Edward is persuaded to oversee further shooting that will add an action climax much like the ones he’s famous for.

Edward’s movie is about a Brazilian model, Michelle (Ximenes), whose career is far from fulfilling. An encounter with a publisher leads her to turn her back on modelling in order to write a novel. She leaves behind her less than supportive boyfriend, Dale (Priestley), and heads for a beach town in Brazil where she continues to write her story about a young woman who works in a love doll factory and wants bigger breasts. As Zoom continues, each story, already inextricably linked, reveals different facets of the wider story being told, and challenges our notions of what’s real and what’s fantasy.

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Morelli juggles the various storylines and multiple perspectives with a confidence that draws out the subtle nuances and refinements of the script. Visual clues and riffs abound throughout, and there are a number of verbal references that serve to enhance the quick-witted nature of the narrative, and it all helps to take the viewer on a multi-stranded journey of discovery that never skimps on invention. Emma and Bob find themselves in possession of a large quantity of cocaine, the sale of which will help pay for the breast reduction she now wants. Michelle finds herself on the verge of a relationship with local bar owner, Alice (Ohana). Edward goes to ever-increasing lengths (no pun intended) to reassert his masculinity, even as his control over his movie defaults to his scheming colleague, Horowitz (McKellar). Each story grows closer and more connected to each other, until Hansen and Morelli manage to pull off something of a magic trick: three narratives become one and they all fit seamlessly together.

A tremendous amount of thought has been put into Zoom, and though a handful of scenes have the feel of having been added during shooting, the movie as a whole has a gleefully anarchic approach that is helped immeasurably by the commitment of its cast. Bernal, his performance augmented by the comic book style animation his storyline is presented in, plays Edward as a combination of preening pleasure seeker and tortured artist, and does so without making his character seem at odds with himself. Ximenes has arguably the most dramatic role, but acquits herself well, portraying Michelle’s determination and vulnerability with a poise and conviction that feels entirely natural. Labine provides his usual slacker screen persona (which isn’t a bad thing; he hasn’t worn out his welcome in the way that Seth Rogen has, for example), Michael Eklund adds another oddball role to his CV as a love doll customer with an uncomfortable demeanour, and McKellar is suitably venal and crafty as Edward’s “successor”.

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But it’s Pill who most impresses. As the outwardly mousy Emma, Pill delivers a pitch perfect portrayal of a woman with bigger (pun intended) plans than anyone can imagine. Always undervalued and unappreciated for herself, Emma has a better focus on her life and what she wants than anyone else, and Pill is the movie’s consistent source of emotional honesty. Her open, expressive features (even when hidden behind some very large frames) have the ability to convey so many different feelings and emotions that watching her is always a pleasure. Just watch her in the scene where she tries to insist that her breast enlargement be reversed; the combination of her countenance and her vocal delivery is expressed with such delicacy that it’s a shame when the scene ends.

Zoom premiered a year ago today at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, but has since been released in only a handful of countries. This is a shame as it’s an imaginative, skilfully handled tale that wears its quirkiness on its sleeve with pride, and offers anyone lucky enough to see it a very good time indeed. Morelli, Hansen, the cast, and everyone else involved in the movie should all be congratulated for achieving something that doesn’t conform to the moribund excesses of current Hollywood movie making.

Rating: 8/10 – an extremely pleasing mix of animation and standard photography, Zoom establishes each of its three storylines with speed and efficiency, and never relaxes in its efforts to surprise and entertain the viewer; a small-scale gem that deserves a wider audience – like so many other indie movies out there – it’s diverting and rewarding in equal measure and well worth checking out.

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