THE STORY – Isabelle, a single mother raising her only daughter, takes matters into her own hands after tragedy strikes.
THE CAST – Julie Delpy, Richard Armitage, Daniel Brühl, Gemma Arterton, Saleh Bakri, Lindsay Duncan & Sophia Ally
THE TEAM – Julie Delpy (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 102 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
Julie Delpy’s new film is a half family drama and half medical science fiction. “My Zoe,” written and directed as well as starred in by Delpy, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, but is finally available to watch in the US. The film asks some interesting questions and when it’s a drama about two parents feuding over custody, it’s decently strong. However, it struggles with pacing and disjointedness and never entirely seeks to address the quandaries it creates.
Delpy plays Isabelle, mother to the adorable young Zoe (Sophia Ally). Zoe and Isabelle share a close bond with Zoe, even asking her mom, “Why does time go so fast when I’m with you?” Isabelle is also a scientist who is learning to juggle single motherhood and her career. The film is set in Berlin, though Isabelle is half-American, half-French, like Delpy herself.
Richard Armitage plays Isabelle’s ex-husband James, with whom she is on shaky terms. The two are in a continued fight over the details of their even custody of Zoe and question each other’s parenting at every turn. While he makes frequent cutting remarks, she is hiding her new boyfriend from him. It’s clear that though the film wants us to sympathize with Isabelle, neither of them is entirely blameless.
“My Zoe” certainly takes its time setting up the family’s dynamic before it reaches the catalyst for the main action. Tragedy strikes when Zoe suddenly becomes ill and is hospitalized; the couple continues fighting even as their daughter is in surgery. Armitage is at his best in this section of the film, very effectively portraying a worried father.
However, the film pivots from being a portrait of a couple dealing with grief and loss to being a sort of science-fiction tale about cloning. The second half of the film has serious pacing issues and though it introduces Daniel Brühl and Gemma Arterton as Dr. Thomas Fischer and his wife, Laura, neither are given that much to do.
The film sets up some interesting questions about the ethics of cloning humans but seems to shrug its shoulders when it comes to any answer. It fails to fully explore, or even acknowledge, the morality of the situation beyond one conversation between Isabelle and Dr. Fischer. Perhaps because of that, the film’s happy ending mostly feels bizarre, sudden and left me with many questions in a very unsatisfying way.
The film isn’t entirely a miss as Delpy gives an excellent leading performance and her direction is serviceable. But the story feels like it never wholly comes together cohesively. It’s a fascinating topic with a real moral dilemma that deserves to be seriously explored. However, the film is actually at its best before it reaches the section that makes it unique: when it is merely another drama exploring a couple trying to co-parent post-break-up.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A unique premise and a strong leading performance from Julie Delpy.
THE BAD – Issues with tone and pacing, plus the film fails to interrogate the ethical dilemma it sets up thoroughly.