‘Dear Zoe’ Ending, Explained: How Does Tess Finally Deal With Her Sister’s Death?

A tragedy that strikes a happy family hard. It is a story of a young girl who loses her sibling to an accident, and nothing remains the same after that; it is a story of a young teen struggling to come to terms with this death. Traumas such as this take time to recover, and the healing process is time-consuming. Everyone has their way of dealing with tragedies, and “Dear Zoe” captures that. Directed by Gren Wells, the film is based on the novel by the same name by Philip Beard, starring Sadie Sink, Theo Rossi, Jessica Clapshaw, Justin Bartha, and Kweku Collins. 


Spoilers Ahead

‘Dear Zoe’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?

The first scene of “Dear Zoe” begins with Tess, her mother, and her stepfather heading to the hospital as ambulance officials take the injured body of Zoe into the emergency room. Zoe, unfortunately, dies as soon as she reaches the hospital due to injuries, and Tess is in shock to hear the news of her sister’s demise. Tess starts spiraling and starts blaming herself for it. The day Zoe passes away is the day the world remembers the attack on the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001. Tess keeps repeating to herself how things would have been different if she had done tiny little things differently that day. Zoe would have been alive with them. Tess keeps reliving the last moments of Zoe in her head and keeps repeatedly wondering about how the tragedy could have been avoided.


Tess is in good relations with her stepfather and half-sister, Emily Gladstone, and Tess is a wonderful older sister to her. But lately, Tess is finding it difficult to deal with the tragedy and lashes out during a family therapy session. She wonders what good it would bring to her to talk about the incident repeatedly, which will cause her nothing but pain. Tess is a teenager who is going through her regular bouts where she finds everything about her parents embarrassing, and she can express herself by lashing out. Tess has a crush on a guy who works at a grocery store and tries to get his attention. Soon she comes to know her mother is having an affair with the same person. This makes Tess livid, and she ends up arguing with her mother. Tess and her family are trying hard to get over the tragedy they had to face just a few months back. Tess tries to make things right by suggesting celebrating Christmas, but neither her mother nor stepfather are on talking terms and refuse to celebrate Christmas this year. Tess, being a teenager, finds it hard to talk to people who can understand what she is going through. She is unable to communicate with her friends or her parents. 

On discovering her mother’s affair with the grocery store boy, she decides to leave her suburban house and move in with her biological father, whom she does not meet regularly. Her father, Nick DeNunzio, lives in a smaller house with his pet, but Tess soon finds it comfortable living with him. Tess’s mother freaks out when she sees her daughter has left the house and hurries to talk to Nick to bring her back. Nick convinces her to let Tess stay with him for a while till she feels better. Nick, who was always considered someone who did not have a consistent income, suddenly comes across as the responsible one. With Tess living with him, Nick now considers it important for him to find a stable job for his only daughter and tries his level best to be a better father since she decided to live with him. Tess’s moving out made her younger sister, Emily, upset. In order to compensate, Tess starts spending time with Emily at her school and starts giving her sketches to her as a gift. Tess is a gifted artist who draws sketches of people. Her way is to destress and divert her mind from the memory of her sister’s death. Tess is not an irresponsible person here; she is just going through a hard time dealing with the tragedy. Any mention of 9/11 triggers her memories, and she tries her level best not to have a complete mental breakdown over it. Tess constantly believes it was her mistake that led to Zoe passing away. Her father, Nick, tries to communicate with her about the incident, but she brushes it away and concentrates on helping her father with household chores.


‘Dear Zoe’ Ending Explained: How Does Tess Finally Deal With Her Sister’s Death? 

Tess is attracted to Jimmy Freeze, her father’s neighbor, who Nick doesn’t trust. They form a friendship over losing a family member and start spending a lot of time together. Tess and Jimmy go back and forth to each other’s homes by placing a ladder between their very close houses. It becomes an essential part of their relationship going forward. Jimmy helps her to calm down, somewhat understands her pain, and listens to her painful ventouts, her agony, and her mother’s inability to understand Tess’s guilt. Tess and Jimmy eventually kiss, cementing their relationship. Nick finds out about them and disapproves of the relationship. Tess and Jimmy form a bond that they both know are special, and they refuse to let anything come between them. Nick is sure of the fact that Jimmy is not the right guy for his daughter, and he is very vocal about it. Nick is aware of Jimmy’s past, and that is the reason he considers him unfit for Tess. 

Tess soon starts working at a lemonade stand at a local amusement park, and a colleague happens to be Jimmy’s best friend. Jimmy makes sure to come by the stand after Tess’s shift is over, and they get to spend a lot of time with her. Tess and Jimmy become close until Tess receives the news of her mother’s attempted suicide. Tess’s mother, overwhelmed by the grief of losing Zoe and Tess moving out, attempts to kill herself. Tess again spirals and has a spat with Jimmy over the fact that his mother passed away due to an illness, but her mother attempted to kill herself, which are two different things. Hurt by her words, Jimmy and Tess don’t talk for weeks. Tess is shocked to know her mother took this step to get rid of the pain she is in. Tess runs to her mother to console her, Emily, and her stepfather. Her mother apologizes for having an affair. Nick comes across as support to Tess and her mother’s family. 


Nick takes up a job at a local restaurant as a chef. His dream to start a food truck has been on the back foot because of a lack of funds and his constant tussle not to do the right thing. Tess comes to know that Nick sells drugs, and that is how he can remain stable and afford the house he is living in. Tess makes it clear to him to find an actual job that would not send him to jail. Tess does not want to lose a parent who understands her situation, and she does not intend to go back to her mother’s home as of now. Nick tries his best to provide but ends up not going to the job. He ends up getting arrested for selling drugs. Tess is helped by her stepfather, and her mother comes by on her 17th birthday, and they have a heart-to-heart talk about Zoe’s untimely death and her mother attempting to kill herself because of the constant grief. She apologizes and promises her that she will start communicating with Tess in a better way. Tess is happy to hear from her the words she has been waiting to hear. All she wanted to do was to share the grief, be with one another in this hour of grief, and not fall apart because of it. Tess gets together with Jimmy, who comes by to wish her happy birthday; he gifts her his favorite pendant. Tess breaks down and conveys the day Zoe died in full detail. Tess feels comfortable enough to talk about the enormous grief she is in, the heaviness she felt in her chest is now gone, and her guilt has reduced because Jimmy constantly convinces her that it wasn’t her fault. Tess is relieved that Jimmy can do what no therapist could, which is helping her find a breakthrough. Tess decides she will move back in with her mother and be there for them, for she wants to be with them to tackle the grief and get out of it as a family. Nick is released from jail and is more than happy to help Tess move on, and he realizes he has to move on, too, and find a purpose in life. 


“Dear Zoe” lacked emotions. The film was supposed to be high on grief, emotions, and pain, but the screenplay made sure none of that comes up, for it is dull and shallow and does not empathize with Tess or her family as they are going through a tragedy. Losing a close family member to an accident is tormenting, which never came up in the film. Direction is affected by the bland nature of the screenplay. Performances by the actors are a major letdown. Even if the screenplay was not up to the mark, performances could have kept the film afloat, but sadly it didn’t. None of the actors could convey the emotion of pain, loss, and regret throughout the film. They were just sleepwalking through a screenplay that was cliched. Plenty of plot points could be seen coming from miles away. You can skip “Dear Zoe,” for it does nothing to your mind or soul.


“Dear Zoe” is a 2022 drama film directed by Gren Wells.

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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