Philadelphia Film Festival ’20: MY ZOE – A Great First Half Undone By Second Half

Spoiler warning: This review will contain spoilers for the ending of the film.

After a string of mostly light comedic films including 2 Days In Paris, 2 Days In New York and Skylab, actress/writer/director Julie Delpy moves into much more dramatic territory with My Zoe. Unfortunately, the results are a hard pendulum swing between good and bad, for as well done as the film’s first half is, its second half takes a path that marks its story as one of the more morally reprehensible storylines in over a decade.

Isabelle (Delpy) is an attentive, if at sometimes overworked, mother to five-year-old Zoe (Sophia Ally). She shares custody with ex-husband James (Richard Armitage), who takes every opportunity to belittle her mothering and undercut her confidence with herself. When Zoe doesn’t wake up one morning, Isabelle has her rushed to the hospital where the doctors tell her and James that an aneurysm has put their little girl into a coma. As the two wait for any change in their daughter’s condition, the emotional stress of the situation begins to tear at them as they acrimoniously trade accusations.

This is where the film is at its best, exploring the raw nerves and the complex and fragile emotional state that Isabelle finds herself in as she faces the most horrifying prospect a parent can face. Unfortunately, Delpy takes that state she brings Isabelle to and moves it into a direction that undercuts all of the work she has done as a storyteller up to this point.

Faced with the fact that her daughter is brain dead and will never wake up, Isabelle takes some blood and cell samples from Zoe and heads to Moscow where she knows of an unscrupulous scientist who could illegally clone her daughter. It is here where the film’s point of view shifts. Rather than continuing to tell the story through Isabelle’s eyes, the storytelling shifts to a more omniscient point of view. Unfortunately, this pulls us away from Isabelle right when the story needs to be with her the most. She is grieving and making grief-fueled irrational decisions but the storytelling seems to take a step back from that. And that remove doesn’t seem to be done to allow the characters around her to point out what she is doing is wrong to her. Outside of some minimal conversation, it seems as if everyone is just fine with Isabelle’s course of action, no matter how unethical and crazy it may be.

Frankly, I have not been infuriated with a movie in such a way as this since the ending of 2008’s Seven Pounds which starred Will Smith. In that film, we see Smith trying to cope with the death of his family in a car accident he blames himself for by seemingly befriending seven different people who have various illnesses. It is only at the end do we see him kill himself, willing his organs to those seven people as his way of atonement. But Seven Pounds elevated Smith’s character, who was emotionally damaged and not making rational decisions, and treated his suicide as some sort of noble act, not the act of an emotionally damaged person that it was.

Much in the same way, in My Zoe, Isabelle is grieving, emotionally broken and in no state of mind to be making rational decisions. And while a few characters talk about the unethical nature of the course of action she takes in the second half of the film, they do nothing to stop her. They just blithely accept it and help her along. Her grief over her daughter’s isn’t a process that is navigated in any real, emotionally truthful way. Instead, her grief is something that she tricks into going away, something she cons into no longer being a part of her life.

Frustratingly, the movie makes no attempt to condemn either Isabelle or any of her enablers for anything that is done in the back half of the film. If anything, the film’s “Five Years Later” coda seems to condone and approve what she has done. And that is the worst thing of all.

Avatar für Rich Drees
About Rich Drees 6996 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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