The Other Zoey (2023)

Will the real other Zoey please stand up

The Other Zoey is one of the most insane romcoms I’ve ever seen. Good crazy or bad crazy? You decide:

  • The film follows Zoey Miller (Josephine Langford), a brainy, tech-minded college student.
  • Zoey’s whole thing is that she doesn’t believe romance really exists. She believes long-term romantic relationships depend not on intense passion or fluttery feelings of attraction but a rational, quantifiable compatibility value. In fact, she’s designed a dating app to match two people’s compatibility. (Apparently nobody has explained to her that the majority of dating apps are designed to “match two people’s compatibility.”) The opening scene shows her disrupting a Valentine’s Day event to bad-mouth “love” and pitch her app.
  • The app is not mentioned again until the last 15 minutes.
  • One day, while attending a class, she witnesses a handsome student named Miles (Archie Renaux) make a public statement matching her own views: that romance as typically depicted in media is a capitalist and unsustainable construct. She immediately falls for him. Had The Other Zoey squeezed this scenario for all its irony, I think it could have been genuinely clever — two people who disbelieve in lovey-dovey romance scientifically trying to make sense of it as they experience it themselves like the scientist observing horny teens in Beach Party. But The Other Zoey is very much not clever. All this opening thematic churn instead conveys as total nonsense and self-contradiction.
  • Enter the third point in the love triangle: The handsome, popular soccer captain, Zack MacLaren (Drew Starkey), who has a habit of clocking unsuspecting fellow students in the head with soccer balls via errant kicks. Any guesses whose head he nails around the 10 minute mark?
  • It turns out that Zack started dating the captain of the women’s soccer team, Zoey Wallace (Maggie Thurmon), just a few weeks earlier. Hey, it’s another Zoey, as suggested by the title.
  • Brace yourself. It’s about to get loopy.
  • Zack goes to the bookstore that protagonist Zoey Miller works at to buy a book about… uh, the video game Battletoads. (It’s one of the most awkward bits of product placement in cinema history — he’s not buying the game, he’s buying the “Battletoads for Dummies” book).
  • Shortly after he walks out of the store, Zoey dashes after him to return the credit card he dropped, only for Zack to get hit by a car.
  • Zack slowly comes to, but he has suffered concussion. It’s an odd and specific head injury: It gives him slurred speech and lethargy and, most importantly, a very selective case of temporary amnesia. He loses partial memory of the past few weeks.
  • Here’s the crux of it: Zack can remember that he’s dating a girl named Zoey, but he remembers nothing else about her. He does not what she looks like or anything about her personality. And so he mistakes Zoey Miller as his girlfriend even though she’s the other Zoey. She plays along for a bit until Zack gets back to his family.
  • Coincidentally, none of Zack’s family has seen a picture of girlfriend-Zoey, but they are all planning to meet her that very day as they prepare to go on a ski trip. (Great vacation for someone who just had a concussion!) The trip includes… Zack’s cousin, Miles, the dude that our Zoey is crushing on! So now instead of admitting she’s not really Zack’s girlfriend, she keeps up the ruse so can get closer to Miles.

You don’t need me to explain the rest of what happens, as it’s Tropes 101 from here on out, but I cannot emphasize how many times I said “holy shit, are they really doing this” during the setup. And after the setup, it somehow makes even less sense: The ridiculous “other Zoey” scenario just kind of hangs around. Zoey has no exit strategy or grand plan. She just keeps the con going until it inevitably gets exposed and we’re in normal romcom third-act breakup territory, as if writer Matthew Tabak got through the first act, didn’t see a coherent way out of the wacky conflict he’d come up with, jotted down “romcom stuff,” and spent the rest of the time before his deadline coming up with bantery quips.

Ah yes, the bantery quips. Good God. They are wretched here, which I think you can view as either a strength or a weakness depending on your mindset for these kinds of movies. If you love-to-hate, you’ll find a lot of hateable lines to love. I audibly groaned on a minute-by-minute basis. Zoey ponders what Zack’s GPA is. Her friend suggests: “hella fine point nine!” Etc. Having Zoey be an egghead geek means nearly every line is faux-intellectual bullshittery, writing that somehow insults both smart people and dumb people.

Plenty of strange details bubble up on the fringe: Miles is polyamorous for some reason; maybe to give us enough of an “eww” factor to write him off as a viable partner towards the middle of the film. Zoey’s friend (Mallori Johnson) hooks up with her DoorDash delivery guy (Jorge Lopez) in a pointless side plot. Zack’s sister (Olive Elise Abercrombie) is one of those foul-mouthed, precocious siblings that movies automatically think are funny. The sister is weirdly covetous of Zack, setting up some ooky undertones. Battletoads becomes a plot point again for five minutes in the middle act just to fulfill the product placement contract.

Anyways, as an Amazon Prime release, it’s average streaming fare in its construction, led by director Sara Zandieh. It looks better than Hallmark, but it’s not something you’d ever want to pay to see on a big screen. On a bigger budget, we’d see some actual skiing rather than just sets that vaguely resemble ski lifts and lodges. They wear a lot of cabincore turtleneck sweaters, just to reinforce that they’re rich folk on a winter vacation. The one visually nifty touch is a purple-lit rave party we see for all of 45 seconds in the film’s climax.

We’re not here for that cinematic production values, though, we’re here for the actors and their chemistry, to which I say: eh? Josephine Langford — also the star of the legendarily trashy After movies lovingly bullied on Alternate Ending by our pal Brennan Klein — is a little better than I feared she would be, though is still for now my second-favorite Langford sister. (See: Katherine in Spontaneous or Love, Simon). She is no worse than replacement-level for this type of gig, though, coming across as both human and likable. Renaux, meanwhile, leaves absolutely no impression, but then his character has four different personalities in as many scenes. It’s honestly Starkey I was most impressed with: he has a disarming charm in equal measure to his remarkable handsomeness. I can understand why the Letterboxd reviews of this movie are basically all Starkey thirst comments.

So I ask again: Is The Other Zoey good crazy or bad crazy? And I think it’s a little bit of both. But the movie put me in a good mood; I’m glad the streaming era has created a market for romcoms that are above your average TV movie fare but less filtered and polished than wide theater releases. They need not all be good; in fact, I kind of like that they’re sometimes half-baked. It’s a good fit for the streaming content model (unlike, say, soulless action flicks).

So I ultimately salute the baffling Other Zoey even if I could never in honest conscience call it a good film, or even particularly close.

Is It Good?

Not Very Good (3/8)

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