Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Tribeca Review: Zoe

There’s a (commonly misattributed) saying that those who stand for nothing will fall for anything. That’s true in art as well as in life — a clear point of view is important. But I think a related lemma should be added: trying to say everything is equivalent to saying nothing. And a mid-afternoon festival audience will likely fall asleep.

Zoe (1.5/5) is a mostly pretty looking Sci Fi flick that tries to say everything, and I mean everything. Set in an ambiguous future where humanoid robots are so lifelike they don’t even know they’re robots AND people purchase other, entirely less lifelike robots as sex workers AND BUT WAIT a computer can score the likelihood that a relationship between two humans will succeed OH ALSO a new drug can synthesize the feeling of falling in love for the first time…it’s hard to say what exactly the movie thinks it’s about. Is it about what it means to be human, à la Westworld or Ex Machina? Is it about the boundaries of human connection, à la Her? The danger of reducing love to a number, à la that one episode of How I Met Your Mother? The Sisyphean coup of committing to love in spite of certain failure à la Eternal Sunshine or MTV’s Date My Mom? The hedonistic peril of choosing immediate pleasure spikes over long term rewards? Drug addiction, also, for some reason? Any one avenue could have easily made for a riveting experience (as evidenced by the many wonderful films that have tread this ground); all of them together feel like the ramblings of a motivational speaker at a lifeless corporate retreat.

Everyone is fine here. Léa Seydoux is fine as Didn’t Have The Budget For Scarlett. Ewan McGregor is fine as the inventor whose entire life’s work is effectively a giant Freudian slip he can’t decide if he recognizes. Christina Aguilera is fine as an aging sex robot named Jewels, which A) is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, and B) is a real slap in the face to Jewel’s prospective acting career. Rashida Jones is fine as the ex wife whose sole purpose seems to be to remind us of Her. Theo James is fine as Ash The Fuckable Android, a role that is somehow less robotic than any of his appearances in The Divergent Series. Technology really has come a long way.

I imagine that, somewhere on the cutting room floor, there’s a pretty decent movie waiting to be found. The one we’re left with is bewildering. Characters alter their life trajectories on a whim. Huge existential questions are raised entirely out of nowhere, resolved unsatisfactorily, raised again one act later, and resolved again. An entire love story is reduced to a wordless montage, scored to a song I immediately forgot and backlit by a giant OSX screensaver. I can’t stress to you just how rote, how limp, how paint-by-the-numbers emotional this journey is. It feels like a slideshow at a wedding reception for a couple we’ve never gotten to meet; or like the result of some future singularity event wherein Levi’s commercials have grown sentient and begun directing their own Levi’s commercials, lengthening to infinity long after earth’s denim supply is depleted.

TL;DR, this is a weird ass movie that only made me pine for better ones. Chris and I talk Zoe in another Tribeca installment of podcast:

See my review on Letterboxd