Review: ‘The Other Zoey,’ starring Josephine Langford, Drew Starkey, Archie Renaux, Mallori Johnson, Patrick Fabian, Heather Graham and Andie MacDowell

January 9, 2024

by Carla Hay

Josephine Langford and Drew Starkey in “The Other Zoey” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“The Other Zoey”

Directed by Sara Zandieh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina, and briefly in the Bahamas, the comedy film “The Other Zoey” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A college student who is cynical about love finds herself impersonating the new girlfriend of a schoolmate who has amnesia, because the cynic feels guilty about being resonsible for the accident that caused his amnesia.

Culture Audience: “The Other Zoey” will appeal primarily to fans of predictable romantic comedies that are elevated by cast members with good comedic talent.

Josephine Langford and Archie Renaux in “The Other Zoey” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

When it comes to romantic comedies about identity deception, there are many that are a lot worse than “The Other Zoey.” Josephine Langford’s charming performance is the main reason to watch when the movie starts veering into eye-rolling ridiculousness. It’s a mixed bag of a movie where some of the writing is sharp and witty, while some of it is dull and hokey.

Directed Sara Zandieh and written by Matthew Tabak, “The Other Zoey” takes place mostly in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the movie was filmed on location. At the fictional Queens University of Charlotte, student Zoey Miller (played by Langford) prides herself on being an independent intellectual. Zoey is very jaded about love. She’s not against falling in love, but she thinks people should be more practical about choosing the correct love partner.

The movie’s opening scene takes place in a classroom at the university. A student named Becca (played by Amalia Yoo) is giving a presentation about St. Valentine to the class. And sure enough, outspoken Zoey interrupts Becca’s presentation and announces to the class: “The whole concept of falling in love and even romantic love is a product of capitalism.”

Zoey says she believes in romantic love “if it’s based on compatibility. That’s really hard, which is why I actually created my own app. It matches people on a data-driven compatibility report.” As students leave at the end of the classroom session, Zoey continues to shamelessly promote her “compatibility app” and says she’s looking for investors. The other students just don’t care.

For someone who dismissively thinks that “romantic love is a product of capitalism,” Zoey fails to see the irony that her app is part of the capitalism that she claims to dislike. It’s the first clue that Zoey says one thing but might be feeling another way in her heart. It’s a predictable stereotype of a romantic comedy heroine who thinks she doesn’t need anyone to fall in love with, until she unexpectedly finds “the one” and changes her mind about love.

And here comes another rom-com cliché: the heroine’s best friend, who usually has an opposite personality and is usually the one who plays a big role in whether or not the heroine will end up with the intended love interest. In “The Other Zoey,” Zoey’s best friend and roommate is named Elle (played by Mallori Johnson), who is an artsy romantic, in contrast to Zoey being a tech-oriented cynic.

Outside in a lawn area on campus, Becca is annoyed with Zoey for trying to embarrass Becca during the presentation. Becca and a friend approach Zoey and Elle in a hostile manner by scolding Zoey about her sales presentation in the classroom. Becca sneers at Zoey by saying that Zoey should put the word “cynic” next to the words “tech geek” on her résumé. Someone needs to tell Becca that in order for insults between adults to work, they can’t sound like they come from the mind of a 7-year-old child.

Faster than you can say “meet-cute moment,” Zoey gets hit on the head by a soccer ball that was accidentally kicked in her direction by the star player of the school’s soccer team, which has some members casually playing a game nearby. The soccer star’s name is Zach McLaren (played by Drew Starkey), and he runs over to Zoey to say he’s sorry about the mishap. Zoey is not amused and is abrupt with Zach during his apology.

As Zoey and Elle walk away, Elle gushes over how Zach is one of the school’s biggest heartthrobs. Zoey isn’t impressed and asks what Zach’s grade point average is. Rom-com cheesy line of dialogue alert: Elle exclaims, “Hella fine point 9!”

Soon afterward, Zoey goes to another lecture, where the topic is about romantic love. And what a coincidence: A good-looking guy who’s slightly older than Zoey stands up in the room and says that romantic love is a product of capitalism. He also quotes author/philosopher Alain de Botton as someone he admires. Guess who’s also a fan of Alain de Botton?

Zoey is intrigued by this stranger, who has the same views on love that she does. Will she see him again? Of course she will, in a very “rom-com coincidence.” She finds out later that his name is Miles McLaren (played by Archie Renaux), and he’s Zach’s cousin.

As part of a work/study program, Zoey has a job at a bookstore, where one day Zach walks into the store because he’s looking for a book on a video game called “Battle Toads.” Zoey has a snooty attitude toward video games and isn’t afraid to say so to Zach. They exchange some sarcastic banter. Zach pays for the book and leaves.

However, Zach accidentally left his credit card behind at the store. Zoey runs out of the store to see if she can find Zach so that she can return his credit card to him. She sees him riding his bike, runs after him, and yells that she has his credit card. Zach hears her and gets distracted, which is right when he gets hit by a car.

Zach has a hard tumble on the ground, which causes a head injury. Zoey is horrified that she unintentionally caused this accident. Zach is conscious but he’s dazed and confused. When he sees Zoey, he kisses her on the cheek, as if he knows Zoey very well. Zoey is embarrassed but thinks that Zach is disoriented and has her mistaken for someone else.

Zach is rushed to hospital, where Zach and his parents Connie MacLaren (played by Andie MacDowell) and Matt McLaren (played by Patrick Fabian) find out that Zach has amnesia. Zoey has gone to the hospital to see how Zach is recovering. She introduces herself to Zach’s parents and is shocked to find out that they think that Zoey is Zach’s new girlfriend Zoey Wallace (played by Maggie Thurmon), whom the parents haven’t met yet. Apparently, Zach never took photos of Zoey Wallace because he fully believes that the Zoey at the hospital is Zoey Wallace.

Through conversations, Zoey Miller discovers that Zoey Wallace and Zach have been dating each other for only two weeks, but things have gotten hot and heavy with them. Zoey Wallace is currently in the Bahamas, on vacation with her parents (played by Christie Lynn Smith and William Pierce Lackey, also known as Pierce Lackey), who don’t have first names in the movie. Zoey Wallace hasn’t heard from Zach and doesn’t know about the accident and his amnesia. Zoey Wallace thinks Zach is ignoring her, and she’s paranoid that it’s because he has another love interest.

The scenes with Zoey Wallace (who is whiny and annoying) and her parents are some of the worst scenes in the movie. Thankfully, these Wallace family scenes are brief. When Zoey Wallace starts to have a tearful meltdown about not hearing from Zach, her mother says: “Wallaces don’t wallow. And crying causes wrinkles. Just know that.”

Meanwhile, Zoey Miller feels guilty about the role she had in the accident that caused Zach’s amnesia. She doesn’t want to upset him, so she pretends that she’s Zoey Wallace for most of her time with Zach. Elle thinks it’s cute and advises Zoey to keep up the charade. It’s bad advice, of course, but there would be no “The Other Zoey” movie if Zoey Miller didn’t take this advice.

After Zach is discharged from the hospital, his parents invite Zoey Miller (whom they think is Zoey Wallace) on a family skiing trip. Also on this trip is Zach’s bratty and meddling sister Avery (played by Olive Abercrombie), who’s about 10 or 11 years old. And surprise! There’s another family member on the trip: Zach’s cousin Miles, who is a grad student at MIT and is visiting for the weekend.

When Zoey Miller sees Miles again, there’s chemistry between them that they can’t deny. But what’s a rom-com heroine to do when she’s pretending to be someone else’s girlfriend but she really wants to date his cousin? Zoey Miller thinks Zach is beneath her intellect and she has much more in common with Miles, who would pass her “compatibility test” if she had this “compatibility app” that she keeps talking about inventing.

If you’ve seen enough romantic comedies, then you know exactly how the rest of this story will go. There’s a breezy tone to “The Other Zoey” that makes it easier to tolerate some of the movie’s cringeworthy dialogue. On the positive side, Langford and Johnson make a very watchable comedic duo when they have scenes together. The other cast members give adequate performances.

“The Other Zoey” goes off on a few unnecessary tangents, such as showing that when Zoey Miller is away, Elle meets a food delivery guy named Diego (played by Jorge Lopez) and hooks up with him. It might be the movie’s way of trying to prove that Elle isn’t just an underdeveloped sidekick and has as a life outside of her friendship with Zoey. But it still looks like a forced and awkward subplot, because Elle is still an underdeveloped sidekick.

Heather Graham has a small role in the movie as Zoey Miller’s divorcée mother Paula, who has a close relationship with Zoey and is the voice of reason when Zoey (who is an only child) confides in Paula about her personal problems. Paula isn’t given much to do in the movie. She seems to be there to make viewers aware that Zoey is probably neurotic about love because Zoey’s parents got divorced.

“The Other Zoey” is not the type of movie that wants viewers to wonder too much about the main characters’ backstories. The movie is very lightweight entertainment and doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s the type of romantic comedy that’s not intended for people who are as pessimistic about love as Zoey Miller is at the start of the movie. And that’s why the intended viewers are most likely to keep watching “The Other Zoey,” until the very end and will be satisfied by the expected results.

Brainstorm Media released “The Other Zoey” in select U.S. cinemas on October 20, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on November 10, 2023.

Review: ‘Gigi & Nate,’ starring Marcia Gay Harden, Charlie Rowe, Josephine Langford, Zoe Colletti, Hannah Riley, Jim Belushi and Diane Ladd

September 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Charlie Rowe and Allie in “Gigi & Nate” (Photo by Anne Marie Fox/Roadside Attractions)

“Gigi & Nate”

Directed by Nick Hamm

Culture Representation: Taking place over a five-year period in Tennessee and briefly in North Carolina, the dramatic film “Gigi & Nate” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After getting quadriplegia at the age of 18, Nate Gibson’s life is changed at the age of 22, when he gets a capuchin monkey named Gigi as a service animal, but that special relationship is threatened when an animal-rights activist group works to ban capuchin monkeys as household pets. 

Culture Audience: “Gigi & Nate” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching sappy and frequently boring melodramas about cute animals.

Charlie Rowe, Allie and Marcia Gay Harden in “Gigi & Nate” (Photo by Anne Marie Fox/Roadside Attractions)

If the adorable capuchin monkey in “Gigi & Nate” could speak a human language, she would say, “Get me out of this embarrassing movie.” The monkey is the best thing about this overly sappy, tedious and predictable melodrama. Unfortunately, the trailer for “Gigi & Nate” already reveals about 90% of the movie’s plot. The story’s main conflict is rushed in the last third of the film. And so, that leaves the first-two thirds of “Gigi & Nate” to be a lackluster slog of a self-pitying young man with quadriplegia who starts to have a more positive attitude about life when he gets a capuchin monkey as a service animal.

Directed by Nick Hamm and written by David Hudgins, “Gigi & Nate” doesn’t start off as a terrible film. The last third of the movie, which is supposed to be the best part, is what’s mishandled the most and thereby ruins the movie. In the beginning of “Gigi & Nate,” 18-year-old Nate Gibson (played by Charlie Rowe) is spending his summer vacation with his family in an unnamed city in Tennessee. (“Gigi & Nate” was actually filmed in North Carolina.)

Life is going very well for Nate, who lives several miles away in Nashville and is about to go to an unnamed university in the fall. One day during this vacation, Nate goes with some other young people to an outdoor swimming hole located near some cliffs. Accompanying him on this swimming outing are Nate’s feisty older sister Katy (played by Josephine Langford); Katy’s boyfriend Travis Holter (played by Emilio Garcia-Sanchez); Benji Betts (played by Olly Sholotan); and 17-year-old Lori (played by Zoe Colletti, also known as Zoe Margaret Colletti), who has recently stuck up a mild flirtation with Nate. Lori met Nate at the fireworks outdoor stand where she works.

Nate is a bit of a daredevil, so he takes a dare to jump of a cliff and do a back flip into the water. The water is deep enough not to cause him any injuries. But when Nate emerges from the water, he looks slightly disoriented. It’s a foreshadowing of what’s to come later.

After this swimming trip, Nate is having dinner with family members and friends. In addition to Nate and Katy, the other members of the Gibson family who are on this vacation are Nate’s outspoken homemaker mother Claire Gibson (played by Marcia Hay Harden); Nate’s mild-mannered younger sister Annabelle (played by Hannah Riley), who’s about 15 years old; and Claire’s sassy and sometimes-crude mother Mama Blanche (played by Diane Ladd). Claire’s husband, Dan Gibson (played by Jim Belushi), who is the family patriarch, is away on a business trip.

Nate tells his mother that he’s having very painful headaches, and she advises him to take some aspirin. But what’s wrong with Nate can’t be fixed with aspirin. He collapses in the bathroom, and he ends up in a hospital. Dan is called away from his business trip for this emergency, and he frantically rushes to be with Nate and the rest of the family.

The medical diagnosis is that Nate contracted amoebic meningitis from the water he ingested during that fateful swimming excursion. The meningitis has left him with quadriplegia (paralysis of his arms and legs) and needing to use a wheelchair to move around. Early on in Nate’s hospitalization, Claire makes the decision to have Nate sent by helicopter to their home city of Nashville, where he can get advanced medical care.

This medical condition is emotionally devastating to Nate and his loved ones. He becomes hopeless and bitter, and he spends the next four years of his life basically being a shut-in, because Claire is overprotective and doesn’t want Nate to spend a lot of time outside in public. At one point, Nate becomes so depressed, that when he’s outside in his home’s backyard, he tilts his wheelchair so that he deliberately falls into the backyard pond. It’s a huge cry for help instead of a serious suicide attempt, because Dan is nearby in the backyard, and he immediately rescues Nate.

When Nate is 22 years old, his life changes for the better when Claire comes up with the idea to get Nate a service animal to keep Nate company and to give him encouragement and a better motivation to live. And that’s when capuchin monkey Gigi (played by Allie) comes into Nate’s life. Gigi, who was rescued from a petting zoo, does all the expected things that inspirational pets do in movies like “Gigi & Nate.”

Gigi cheers up Nate when he’s feeling depressed and anxious. Gigi is an enthusiastic assistant during Nate’s physical therapy sessions. Gigi also makes human-like expressions on her face to show that she has a distinct personality and feelings. (Some CGI effects were used in some of the monkey scenes.)

In other words, Gigi helps Nate come out of his reclusive shell. He starts to venture out in public more, with Gigi as his constant companion. One day, Nate is at a local grocery store with Gigi and his mother Claire, and he sees Lori working at the store as a stock clerk.

Lori has not seen or kept in touch with Nate since the day at the swimming hole. And so, at first, Lori doesn’t recognize Nate when they see each other. His hair is longer than it was that day, and he’s now in a wheelchair. Lori is shocked to see Nate in a wheelchair, and she bluntly asks him what happened. She then profusely apologizes for coming off as a little harsh.

Nate tells Lori why he now has quadriplegia, and that Gigi is his service animal. Lori is utterly charmed by Gigi, and she encourages Nate to set up a social media account to document his life with Gigi. And you know what that means later in the story: The videos go viral, and Nate becomes a little famous. Nate and Lori also get closer to each other, since there’s still a romantic spark between them.

At the grocery store where Nate and Lori had their unexpected reunion, someone sees Gigi in the store and isn’t happy about it at all. Her name is Chloe Gaines (played by Welker White), the Tennessee chapter president of Americans for Animal Protection. It’s a group that works to ban certain wild animals as pets in private households, because the group believes these animals should be in a more natural habitat.

Chloe tersely confronts Claire and Nate and informs them that the monkey shouldn’t be in the grocery store because it’s a violation of health code laws. And even though this movie depicts Chloe as a meddling, unreasonable shrew, she is right about the health code violation. Nate allowed Gigi to climb all over the packaged food on the grocery store shelves. As cute as this monkey is, it’s just not sanitary to have animals crawling over food in a grocery store or any place that sells and stores food.

Claire and Nate are very defensive and tell Chloe that Gigi is not just a pet. Gigi is a working service animal. But that’s not a good-enough explanation for Chloe. As shown in the trailer for “Gigi & Nate,” Chloe becomes the “villain” of the story, as she launches a campaign over the next year to ban capuchin monkeys as household pets in Tennessee. The trailer also shows that Gigi gets taken away from Nate. This conflict is crammed in too late in the movie’s last half-hour.

The Gibson family is in regular contact with Carolyn Albion (played by Mishel Prada), the leader of the animal rescue group that saved Gigi from mistreatment at the petting zoo. She’s on the Gibson family’s side in their battle against the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Animal Protection. Nate also has a caretaker named Nogo (played by Sasha Compère), who is also part of the Gibson family’s support system.

The only crucial plot point that isn’t shown in movie’s trailer is how the conflict is ultimately resolved. That part is hastily and sloppily contrived and shown in the movie’s last 10 minutes. It all comes across as very shallow and cloying.

“Gigi & Nate” has a talented cast, but most of the supporting characters are written in a bland way. Mama Blanche has a few lines of dialogue as cheeky zingers, but she’s mostly a sidelined character. Harden and Rowe, as Claire and Nate, have some poignant mother/son moments, while Belushi’s Dan character is a workaholic who has arguments with Claire about Nate’s ongoing care. Dan thinks Claire is overly cautious, and he believes that Nate should have more freedom.

As soon as the monkey comes into the picture as Nate’s service animal, “Gigi & Nate” becomes more about the animal antics and less about the human psychological challenges of adjusting to life with quadriplegia. If the filmmakers thought this psychological angle would be too depressing, then they still could’ve made “Gigi & Nate” a better movie if they made the conflict of the Gibson family versus Americans for Animal Protection a bigger part of the story. That’s why the movie’s showdown scene in a Tennessee state legislative hearing is very truncated and anticlimactic.

“Gigi & Nate” isn’t a completely terrible movie, because the acting performances are competent. It’s just a disappointing film that handles many important issues in a very cringeworthy way that overloads on being hokey, and thereby cheapens the intended messages of the movie. “Gigi & Nate” has some appealing monkey scenes, but is missing a lot of the realistic human grit needed to make this movie more interesting and meaningful.

Roadside Attractions released “Gigi & Nate” in U.S. cinemas on September 2, 2022.

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