(Canada/Brazil, 96 min.)
Dir. Pedro Morelli, Writ. Matt Hansen
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Alison Pill, Maria Ximenes, Jason Priestley, Don McKellar, Tyler Labine
“Zoom, zoom!” Like the kid in those catchy old Mazda commercials suggests, two zooms are better than one. Zoom, the new animation hybrid from Rhombus Media, offers three levels of zooms and kicks the film up a gear as it revs through these layers. This ambitious meta-movie is an intricate time loop that navigates multiple universes of fiction and storytelling. It’s a mind-bending, globe-hopping head-trip that puts audiences in the panels of a metaphysical comic book to explore the far-flung limits of reality.
The film features three narratives that intersect and converge sooner than one expects. Zoom, despite a few years late to the once popular trend of transnational multi-narrative odysseys, but the film’s big ideas and ambition keeps it fresh as do some spirited performances by Alison Pill and Tyler Labine in the Toronto-set narrative and Gael García Bernal and a slimy Don McKellar in the animated sequences.
Emma (Pill) works in a Toronto factory where she makes high-quality sex dolls for men who prefer a very specific type of women. Being around so many precisely sculpted bodies makes her insecure about her own image, especially after her workplace play buddy Bob (Labine) observes that her plain little breasts suit her just fine. Emma doesn’t want girl-next-door boobs, though. She dreams of porn star bazongos and spends her hard-earned savings on a giant pair of fake tits.
Her new breasts are disproportionate with a double ‘D’ and look far more flat out ridiculous than her old chest did. Pill’s awkward physical comedy makes the transition amiably ludicrous as Emma sees her decision to be just as poor an investment as a Toronto condo would be. Emma, somewhat irrationally, lashes out at the fantasies and ideals of perfect bodies that drove her to undergo such a radical procedure.
The object of Emma’s fantasies is Edward (Gael Garía Bernal, doing a vocal performance that will have audiences laughing and sweating). Edward is a sexy film director who lives within the frames of Emma’s cartoon scrapbook. He takes a page from Emma’s own huge-breasted self-portrait in that he embodies unrealistic, yet enviable, attributes of physical perfection. With confidence and a sure-fire way with women, he allows Emma to live the fantasy fire she lacks with Bob. However, when Emma can’t deflate her implants (too costly), she takes it out on Edward and erases the huge bulge from his pants that casts shadows across the frame and makes cartoon women fall to their knees.
Where Edward lacks virility, Zoom heats things up with brightly animated palettes that set the second narrative apart from the other two. These scenes set within Emma’s comic book world recall the rotoscoping effects of A Scanner Darkly, but director Pedro Morelli infuses these compositions with the alternative eye-popping fluorescents that melt Warhol with Lichtenstein. The dizzying comic book colours complement the film’s heady philosophy and give it a vibe of something concocted over a few bong hits and slices of leftover pizza, which is exactly how one imagines Emma might draw when she isn’t in a perilous state of boob envy.
Edward, like Emma, also creates a story as he finishes shooting a film in sunny Brazil. It’s an art piece, something about love, loss, and letting go. Naturally, it too creates its own reality.
The third story is an odd duck as blonde Brazilian Michelle (Maria Ximenes) dumps her d-bag boyfriend (Jason Priestley) after he mocks her English. She says she might write a book and he isn’t buying her story, so she packs up and returns to South America where she pens a novel on a whim. This live action sequence is the least effective thread both narratively and stylistically as Michelle flirts with potential lovers while Morelli and cinematographer Adrian Teijido embellish her journey of self-discovery with some OCD camerawork. The picture tilts and twirls, and it’s annoyingly off kilter. Zoom has sharp visual fissures that do not connect despite the well-plotted dots.
The script by Matt Hansen intriguingly raises questions of fate and determinism as it shows aspects of global interconnectedness as every player is somehow implicated in another person’s narrative. An action in one world brings consequences in another, which is most prominent when, like a butterfly stirring a hurricane with her wings, Emma changes her drawing and Edward shrinks to embarrassing proportions and finds himself equally flaccid on the inside. Zoom’s audaciously conveys how everyone in the world is part of the same story as it threads the sequences together as the three writers all plot the same narrative in unwitting collaboration. The cinematography of the Brazil narrative might work alongside the relatively conventional live action rendering of the Emma thread and the animated panache of the Edward if Morelli more coherence to his direction. However, Morelli, who previously worked with Zoom producer Niv Fichman his other Canadian/Brazilian co-pro Blindness, doesn’t bring in direction what Hansen brings in his comic book infused script. Zoom resembles three disparate and disjointed pieces rather than three arcs of the same circle. As a broken circle, though, it’s fun to try and piece together.
Zoom is currently playing in Toronto at the Carlton and is available on VOD.