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: ‘A Simple Wedding,’ starring Tara Grammy, Christopher O’Shea, Rita Wilson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Maz Jobrani and Houshang Touzie

February 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Christopher O’Shea and Tara Grammy in “A Simple Wedding” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“A Simple Wedding”

Directed by Sara Zandieh 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and California’s Orange County, the romantic comedy “A Simple Wedding” features a cast of middle-class characters who are primarily of Iranian descent or white, with some representation of the LGBTQ community.

Culture Clash: A straight woman and a bisexual man fall in love with each other, despite coming from two different backgrounds: She has a conservative Iranian family and he has a non-traditional white American family.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of “opposites attract” romantic comedies or movies about contrasting families.

James Eckhouse, Peter Mackenzie, Rita Wilson, Christopher O’Shea, Tara Grammy, Houshang Touzie and Shohreh Aghdashloo in “A Simple Wedding” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

When a romantic comedy has the word “wedding” in the title, there’s a certain kind of audience it has in mind. And then there’s everyone else who’ll be repelled or will have no interest in watching what is sure to be a bunch of sappy clichés. But if you’re the type of person who hates stories that revolve around weddings because so many of these stories recycle the same tropes, then consider “A Simple Wedding,” which is a sharp and witty romantic comedy for people who usually hate romantic comedies. Even if it’s far from a groundbreaking film, “A Simple Wedding” is entertaining from beginning to end because of its unique take on cultures we normally don’t see in American films.

Directed by Sara Zandieh (who co-wrote the screenplay with Stephanie Wu), “A Simple Wedding” is about not only a couple who are opposites of each other but their family backgrounds are also very different. Nousha Housseini (played by Tara Grammy) is a Los Angeles housing attorney who’s smart, sarcastically funny, and going through a family ritual that she dreads: Her Iranian immigrant parents—mother Ziba (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo) and father Reza (Houshang Touzie), who live in nearby Orange County—have been setting up meetings with Nousha and eligible bachelors of Iranian descent, with the expectation that Nousha will enter into an arranged marriage.

Nousha, who’s in her early 30s, isn’t too keen on getting married to anyone because she doesn’t think she’s ready yet. And if she does get married, she wants it to be for love, not because it was arranged for her by other people. In the film’s opening scene, Nousha deliberately sabotages a meeting with her parents, her fiancé and his parents. It’s not shown or mentioned in the movie how long Nousha has been dating her fiancé. (Keep in mind that in certain cultures, it’s not unusual for people in arranged marriages to get engaged after knowing each other for a few days.)

While visiting at the other couple’s house with the would-be husband in attendance, Nousha offers a birthday cake to the wife and sings “Happy Birthday” in the seductive way that Marilyn Monroe famously sang the song to President John F. Kennedy. The mother doesn’t know what to make of this unexpected delivery and is very uncomfortable with the way Nousha is singing the song to her. It’s so unnerving that she cuts the meeting short and says that maybe Nousha isn’t the right match for her son. “Are you breaking up with me?,” Nousha says as she tries to hide her smile.

Mission accomplished. Her parents are disappointed that Nousha’s been eliminated as a prospective wife for this well-to-do and educated suitor, but Nousha is happy that her plan has worked perfectly to get out of being married off to him. As she argues with her parents later, she says that she thinks marriage is an outdated institution and she doesn’t want to be stifled by it. Meanwhile, her outspoken mother whines, “I can’t sleep until you get married!”

Nousha’s circle of friends includes a lesbian couple named Lynne (played by Rebecca Henderson) and Tessa (played Aleque Reid), who are mothers of a pre-school-age girl. When Nousha tells Tessa and Lynne about the breakup, they tell her that she was just in the relationship for the sex with the guy and to please her parents’ expectation that she would marry him. “Oh my God!” Nousha exclaims. “I was doing him for my mom!”

Lynne is one of Nousha’s co-workers, and she’s already spread the word that Nousha has broken up with her latest boyfriend and that she’s available to start dating someone new. Nousha figures out that her love life has become gossip fodder at her job, because after Nousha has told Lynne about the breakup, people in the office keep asking Nousha how she’s feeling, with a sympathetic tone in their voices. And one creepy male co-worker who’s been trying to hook up with Anousha reminds her in a hilarious way how he’s available if she’s interested. (She makes it clear that she’s not interested.)

Meanwhile, Lynne has been asking people at her job to join her in a public protest against sexism and misogyny. Nousha considers herself to be a progressive liberal, so she participates in the protest, which Lynne has named “Pussies Against Patriarchy.” The turnout isn’t very large (less than 20 people), but they are joined by an all-male group of feminists who call themselves The Minstrels.

One of the Minstrels is a lanky, boyishly good-looking artist/DJ named Alex Talbot (played by Christopher O’Shea), who locks eyes with Nousha during the protest. They start flirting with each other, and Nousha gives him her business card. He doesn’t wait long to call her and ask her out on a date.

Over dinner at a hipster-looking dive café, Alex and Nousha talk about their childhood crushes that they would be embarrassed to tell most people. For Nousha, it was David Hasselhoff. For Alex, it was Celine Dion. (And he confesses that Celine is still a major turn-on for him.)

Nousha immediately assumes that Alex must be gay, but he tells her that he’s sexually attracted to men and women—and that he’s attracted to Nousha. She then reveals that she can do a pretty good Celine Dion impersonation because her mother is a big fan, and Anousha learned how to impersonate Celine Dion when she was a child so “my mother would like me better.” After much pleading from Alex, Nousha reluctantly does her Celine Dion impersonation for him while sitting at the café table. That pretty much seals the deal, so it’s no surprise that when they go back to Alex’s place, they become lovers.

During their whirlwind romance, Alex and Nousha spend as much time as they can with each other, but Nousha is very hesitant at first to introduce him to her parents. Alex is the type of free-spirited, avant-garde artist who hangs up on his wall a drawing that he did of Saddam Hussein kissing Andy Warhol. She also has some concerns about Alex’s financial stability—as a struggling artist, his low income is unpredictable—and the fact that she makes a lot more money than he does.

Although Nousha and Alex are both politically liberal, they have different personalities. Nousha is ambitious, high-strung and practical, while Alex is more of a laid-back, “go with the flow” dreamer. Because they spend so much time together and because Nousha doesn’t care for Alex’s dumpy loft in a low-income area, it’s only a matter of time before they move in together to a place that’s more suited to Nousha’s comfort level. But Nousha still doesn’t tell her parents about Alex, because she thinks he won’t fit in with her family.

It’s not just because Alex isn’t Muslim or because her family also disapproves of couples living together before they get married. It’s also because Alex has a very unconventional family, whom he affectionately calls “crazy.” His parents divorced when he was 16, and his father Bill (played by Peter Mackenzie) ended up marrying another man. Meanwhile, Alex’s mother, Maggie Baker (played by Rita Wilson), is still bitter about the divorce and has given up on finding love again. She has a lot of animosity toward Bill’s husband Steven (played by James Eckhouse), whom she blames for breaking up her marriage.

During a Facetime chat that Nousha has with her mother, Ziba sees a shirtless Alex in the background, so Nousha finally tells her mother about her relationship with Alex. When the inevitable time comes to meet Nousha’s family—which includes her maternal grandmother (played by Jaleh Modjallal)—Nousha warns Alex that her family will pressure them into getting married. Needless to say, Nousha and Alex do in fact get engaged. And her family— following the tradition of the bride’s family hosting the wedding—wants to goes all-out for the occasion. However, Nousha insists that the wedding should be a small event in her parents’ backyard.

During the wedding plans, Nousha’s Uncle Saman (played by Maz Jobrani), who is her father’s brother, comes to visit the family. Saman is a war veteran who has never been married and doesn’t have kids. (People who first meet him assume that he’s gay, but he’s not.) Saman gets pulled into the rehearsals for the wedding march because Alex’s mother Maggie needs a partner for the procession. Bill and Steven are paired together, and Nousha’s parents are also coupled up, so it would look awkward for Maggie to not have someone to walk with too. Because of underlying tensions and because of the big cultural differences in the two families, there are several arguments and moments of discomfort that are played for laughs in the movie.

Fortunately, “A Simple Wedding” has a well-cast group of actors who handle their performances with believability, charm and great comedic timing. These actors know that the right pauses and facial expressions can turn a scene from something that would land with a thud to a scene that will make people burst out laughing. A lot of the dialogue also looks improvised.

As the story’s protagonist, Nousha is not a typical heroine of a wedding movie. She’s bossy, she’s impatient, and she’s frequently cynical about the concept of “happily ever after.” And even though she’s an attorney, she’s not that straight-laced, since she likes to get high on various substances—and not all of them are legal. Alex is very sweet and eager-to-please (perhaps too eager, since he decides to give himself the nickname Mohammed), but he still maintains a strong sense of identity and feels comfortable with who he is.

The movie has some slapstick moments that look a bit awkward, but the real humor is in the snappy remarks and reactions of the story’s characters. “A Simple Wedding” is worth seeking out for people looking for an enjoyable romantic comedy that has a slightly raunchy sense of humor but still has a sentimental soft spot inside.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “A Simple Wedding” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 14, 2020.

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