The one thing to understand about this movie is that it is written, shot, acted and directed as if it were a college project. If indeed it was then it is impressive. Regardless, this tells volumes about the conventional direction of the screenplay. Zooey and her husband Angel are down on their luck. They both want to escape their criminal lives, but Angel is haunted by some thugs he owes money to and Zooey’s problems are double or triple his. Her best friend has a cute teenage son who spends a lot of time with the married couple, and when the mother is killed he stays with Zooey and Angel for a while. These scenes are terrific. Jordan Burt who plays Jake, the son, is terrific. Not just because he’s so cute. He’s baby-faced and innocent but very aware of his mother’s job. When we first meet him, Zooey and his mom are having a rather explicit discussion regarding money and Angel, and I found it very sad that they don’t even watch themselves in front of this kid. Later we find out Jake loves wrestling, and his scenes with Angel as they practice wrestling and Jake learns to defend himself are cute and really elevate this movie into a different sphere. I overlooked much that was wrong because the film was giving me something special.
Jake is later placed in an orphanage, and determined to get him back Angel and Zooey take on legit jobs. He delivers flowers and Zooey works her way up at a beauty parlor. The same narrative problems as before—the film is unrealistic and predictable but I grew to love these characters and really was waiting for the sappy scene when this odd family would be reunited.
But as formulaic as the good stuff is—Angel doing good at his job, Zooey at hers, having quit the streets, off heroine in a matter of moments apparently, and now they have their tickets to Canada and their application to adopt Jake appears excellent—the bad stuff comes one, two, three. All in the same night, Zooey is threatened back into her former profession; Angel is beaten and robbed of all their money, and Zooey lands in jail for soliciting a cop. I kept waiting for their car to break down and guess what? It did. It is melodramatic and unsophisticated storytelling and when the story was happy and in a positive direction I went with it. I was smiling and laughing at all the positive implausabilities, such as when a john gives Zooey $800 just to talk. The fall from prosperity is shockingly bad. At this point the movie is too stupid to be predictable. Things happen randomly and the worse the situation it seems the better for the writer / director Sherman Lau. The film is not depressing because it is distracting.
The whole feel throughout is rough and patchy. The film feels like a self-indulgent exercise from director Lau. Though I liked the beginning of Zooey very much, it is clear that the film needed several rewrites if it was to achieve a gritty realism I believe the director was after. He has strong points, too. I loved that there wasn’t any nudity or sex in the picture. The scenes of Zooey servicing her johns are almost all taken as long shots of the darkened car. We hear some things and are left to imagine this sweet girl doing them. We enter the cars three times. Twice when Zooey is attacked and once when she shares a very interesting dialogue with a man who has now picked up his first prostitute. He is dying of cancer and though this is highly unlikely in real life, it worked. In fact, what Lau does most effectively is depict the life of a cracked-out hooker not as a series of dramatic events but a steady, monotonous and hellish existence. It’s Zooey’s profession, and to make a living every night she’s out on the streets. Sarah Louise Lilley does a good job with her character but this feels like amateur hour. Worse is Xavier Jimenez as Angel. He is really giving a by the numbers performance that feels worked out to a fault. There is no spontaneity in him. The best performance, as I said, is by the kid. But the acting isn’t the problem here. It’s not even the writing exactly, it’s the decisions by Lau to turn what at one point was an unconventional family story into a revenge shootout. He can make his film as he wants to but don’t be careless with characters I’ve grown to like.
I would be attacking this film if I didn’t like it, but because parts of it are so good I am very disappointed. I didn’t expect a happy ending, though it would have made this material more interesting. Depressing is always welcome with me because it is often more realistic but this film lives in a fantasy created by other movies. The girls working the streets strut and pose and act just like you’d expect them to. In all my time in a big city I have never seen prostitutes this clichéd. If the film is a fantasy then make it one I want to see.
Director: Sherman Lau
Writer: Sherman Lau
Stars: Sarah Louise Lilley, Xavier Jimenez, Rachel Roberts and Jordan Burt
Runtime: 91 minutes
Zooey is available to view right now on Amazon Instant Video. The film has been released on DVD, but seems to be OOP. Amazon link: