Josephine Langford starrer The Other Zoey attempts to do with Zoey as 10 Things I Hate About You did with Kat. Over the years, we’ve seen many charming “not like other girls” characters play the protagonists of mediocre rom-coms and make them out to be more than they are. Zoey is one such character, but the terrible writing and strange pacing of this film fail to make it engaging. With a few changes, this film might have been the one that brought back the charm of old Hollywood rom-coms that everyone has been desperately missing for a long time now. The Other Zoey is a classic case of second-hand embarrassment that goes too far. The film follows genius Zoey Miller, who believes love is all about data and romance is a capitalist strategy. When the college soccer team captain, Zach, meets with an accident and wakes up with amnesia, he mistakes Zoey for his girlfriend. That’s when her worldview starts to change. A weekend vacation romance ensues with a hint of a (very random) love triangle.
Ironically, the film that tries so hard to mock stereotypical romance tropes ends up falling into the same trap rather too quickly. The self-awareness is conveniently timed, and as the protagonist rushes nose-first into “love,” suddenly, all things silly are sensible. Soon, what could’ve been something amusing ends up being predictable and just one step shy of boring. Josephine Langford lacks chemistry with both actors, Archie Renaux and Drew Starkey, and both romances feel stale. Amnesia-ridden Zach, played by Starkey, is meant to come across as endearing and the perfect opposite of Zoey, but given the speed at which the film passes, there’s no room for us to embrace his charm. Lovey-dovey parents, a younger sister who knows exactly what is up, and a best friend who advocates romance, The Other Zoey follows the formula to the T while simultaneously stating that the formula doesn’t work.
“Rom-com advice is so fun,” says Zoey’s mother in a moment that’s supposed to come across as funny. The jokes fall flat, and rather than laughing at what is funny, we’re left embarrassed by Zoey’s actions and poor decisions. She’s supposed to be smart enough to create a dating app based on compatibility and data, but she decides it’s a good decision to impersonate another woman in order to find a companion. Make it make sense. Strangely though, terrible as it is, somehow you feel like watching till the end. It’s not like we’re eager to know who she ends up with and if she will end up with anyone at all, but maybe it’s to see how they work together in the end. Additionally, Zoey’s supposed to be the voice of reason, but somehow, when it’s about her own life, she decides to take Elle’s advice and then blame her for her own mistakes.
Maybe as a show, the plot of The Other Zoey would’ve done really well. There’s a lot to explore here, and it’s got a good premise, but it’s the way the story progresses that makes it lackluster. It’s not like there’s something magnificent about the good old Pretty Woman or Notting Hill that this film tries to poke fun at, but there’s a comfort in watching them. On the other hand, this film stands out as a sore thumb because of its attempt to be unique instead of owning up to its familiarity. Emotionally, there’s nothing going for the film for sure, and the part that’s supposed to be “sad” just feels pushed as a filler. The film is also marketed as a love triangle, but it trails off in the first act itself. The film is reminiscent of Hallmark romances in terms of visuals and production design. The score is forgettable, even though pop music can make a huge difference in such a story. In terms of direction, Sarah Zandeih tries really hard to work with this failed script, but some creative choices don’t necessarily work because of how the plot carries forward.
As always, The Other Zoey tries to tell us that love is all about chance rather than data or math. Opposites attract, and that is the only formula that works here; additionally, similarity doesn’t mean compatibility. The After star tries her best to work with the static dialogue, and she’s alluring at times, but given the plot, she really has no time to shine. Archie Renaux is a filler character plastered on just to add a love triangle and some modern concepts that aren’t explored at all.
As it is with a lot of teen content today, older writers try hard to capture the essence of the teen experience but end up just scraping the surface. In the case of The Other Zoey, there’s mostly confusion about how to add the new while bringing the nostalgia of the old to make a film that works for all straight white women who are interested in romantic comedies. I’d say it is a case of not knowing your target audience. It’s like a boomer-written film for Generation Z, with millennial call-backs. I don’t wish I were in Zoey’s shoes, instead I’m left hoping I would never do anything as embarrassing as her.
The Other Zoey unfortunately falls short of joining the list of films to watch while on your period or on a girl’s night, but if you have nothing else to do and need something to play in the background, then it’s not so bad. Romance is not in the air for Zoey, so go in with no expectations, and it may be enjoyable. It’s a PG-13 film with some mature themes. I’d give The Other Zoey 2.5 out of 5 stars because it had some moments that I definitely enjoyed.