Wells’ Sincere Tear-Jerker Struggles Narratively

Jan 14, 2023

Home Movie Reviews Dear Zoe Review: Wells’ Sincere Tear-Jerker Struggles Narratively [SDIFF]

Director Gren Wells crafts a tender, yet narratively unbalanced film that accentuates the gift that is Sadie Sink’s talent.

Sadie Sink in Dear Zoe

Sadie Sink has shown that she is a force to be reckoned with over the last five years. From her first appearance as Max Mayfield on Netflix’s Stranger Things to her most recent acclaimed performance in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, the young actress shows no limits to where her talents can take her. Sadie’s latest show-stopping performance sees her bearing the heavy emotional weight of the loss of a loved one. Based on the 2005 American novel of the same name, Dear Zoe captures a sincere glimpse of grief when the surrounding world deals with its own problems. Director Gren Wells crafts a tender, yet narratively unbalanced film that accentuates the gift that is Sadie Sink’s talent.

A year after her family suffers an unimaginable loss, Tess DeNunzio (Sink) struggles to overcome her tremendous grief. Unable to heal as her family appears to be doing, she pens a heartfelt letter to her dead little sister Zoe. In it, Tess reflects on what she has lost and her resistance towards recovery. When nothing seems to be working, she turns to her estranged father Nick DeNunzio (Theo Rossi) and stays with him for several weeks. There, Tess finds love and support in surprising ways, giving her hope for a new-found journey of emotional restoration.

Related: Sadie Sink Battles Heartbreaking Grief In Dear Zoe Trailer

Mckenzie Noel Rusiewicz and Sadie Sink in Dear Zoe

Dear Zoe provides modest insight into grief and guilt for a 15-year-old girl who is still learning to exist in a hectic world. Interestingly enough, the film takes place one year after the September 11 attacks, in which various sides to humanity were put on full display. While the feature takes place during the 2001-2002 time frame, not much outside several call-back videos to the tragedy helps to shape the period. Yet, that aspect gave screenwriters Marc Lhormer and Melissa Martin an advantage to put the focus on Tess and her emotional journey. Despite everything going on in the world, these events amount to lesser importance for Tess when personal tragedy strikes.

Though Wells frames Tess’s growth as happening in real time, the pacing of the story can inhibit viewers from being able to fully understand the toll her loss has taken on her. Viewers rarely catch a glimpse of Tess pre-tragedy, and it’s difficult to tell who she is as a teenager. As a result, it’s hard to rationalize her reactions and responses to events, forcing audiences to feel disconnected despite being a reasonably relatable story for anyone who has experienced loss. Ultimately, it all comes down to the wasted opportunity to put forth a powerful and poignant effort about how grief and guilt can change a person over time.

Theo Rossi and Sadie Sink in Dear Zoe

Within the script, there are also missed opportunities to show how tackling grief head-on enables a connection to the person who has passed. In Dear Zoe, the ounces of happiness Tess does get to experience tend to come from others, as she avoids her grief altogether. It’s an interesting message to send, but in these moments, Sadie Sink gives an emotionally-driven and nuanced performance, proving she can hold her own next to seasoned veterans. Theo Rossi is also exceptional. In nearly every scene, Rossi performs with affecting grace and delivers a richly impressive performance with such a comforting and calming presence. It will be incredibly easy for audiences to become invested in everything he does onscreen. If nothing else, the entire cast propels Wells’ feature as one to watch for the performances alone.

Gren Wells’ latest feels sincere, and she commits to a script where the strengths lie in the connections between its characters. Though there is potential lost when it comes to revealing intricate details about grief and guilt, Lhormer and Martin’s script enables Sink and Rossi to take full emotional control of the project. They deliver tender performances capable of stealing the hearts of its viewers who have experienced loss and found solace in reconnecting with family, leading to tear-jerking moments that will last throughout the film. It’s a genuine effort despite its limitations, and it’s certainly worth a watch.

Next: She Said Review: Conflicting Yet Important Film With Great Performances [SDIFF]

Dear Zoe showed at the 2022 San Diego Film Festival. The film will open in limited theaters November 4. It is 94 minutes and rated R for some teen marijuana use.

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