‘The Other Zoey’ Review: Make This Frothy Rom-Com Your Next Comfort Watch
Director: Sara Zandieh
Writer: Matthew Tabak
Cast: Josephine Langford, Drew Starkey, Archie Renaux
Duration: 91 mins
Available on: Amazon Prime Video
When we first meet the protagonist of The Other Zoey, she is emphatically tearing down the concept of love and romance in her university classroom. “Romantic love is a product of capitalism,” says Zoey (Josephine Langford of After fame), who, if given her way, would cancel Valentine's Day altogether. Love, she believes, is all about compatibility. To that end, Zoey is fundraising for her app that uses a data-based algorithm to find your perfect match. Fittingly for someone who places faith in formulae and has such distaste for the clichés of romantic comedies, there’s a pile-up of them in Zoey’s own story. But predictable though it may be, The Other Zoey wears its clichés with pride.
What is refreshing about The Other Zoey is that this time, instead of the male lead being the cynic, it is the film’s female protagonist who is an ultra-rational coder with no time for rom-coms. Of course you know Zoey is going to end up falling in love despite herself, and you’re strapped right in for the ride. The film’s foreshadowing is hardly subtle, but the dramatic irony is just too delicious.
From Amnesia to Love Triangles
Zach (Drew Starkey, known for his role in Netflix’s Outer Banks) is the university’s resident blond-haired, blue-eyed jock. Everyone on campus adores him, but not Zoey. When Zach gets into a bicycle accident outside the bookstore where Zoey works, he wakes up with temporary amnesia, under the impression that Zoey is his girlfriend. Zach has, in fact, been dating a girl named Zoey (Maggie Thurmon), who is the captain of the women’s soccer team. His girlfriend is Zoey Wallace, our heroine is Zoey Miller, and because Zach should not be put under stress — which is as Eighties’ Bollywood as an excuse gets — our Zoey pretends to be Zach’s girlfriend Zoey.
Rounding out the love triangle is Miles (Archie Renaux, last seen in the hit fantasy series Shadow and Bone), who shares Zoey’s views on love and just so happens to be Zach’s cousin. He quotes philosopher Alain de Botton: “Romantic love is a modern-day invention. Most people wouldn't fall in love if they'd never heard of it.” Next thing Zoey knows, she’s imagining a happily-ever-after with Miles while pretending to be Zach’s girlfriend on a ski trip with his family.
Pacey and engaging, one of the reasons The Other Zoey holds your attention is the immediate chemistry between Zoey and Miles. Renaux is incredibly charming as Miles, and Zoey’s painfully obvious attempts to flirt with him while trying to throw Zach’s family off her scent are amusing. The two finally share a steamy kiss (literally; they’re in a hot tub. Think To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, but better), but we’re only halfway through the film.
The other shoe drops when Zoey finds out Miles has a girlfriend. When an upset Zoey confronts him about their kiss, Miles says he is in a polyamourous relationship and was only interested in a casual hook-up. A disappointed Zoey realises that they are not that compatible after all. Cut to Zach, who is goofy and cute and so much more than the stereotypical jock Zoey presumed he was. Also, it turns out the two of them do in fact have things they can talk about. Opposites attract? In a rom-com? Whoever could have seen it coming?
Except Zach also has a girlfriend and when the other Zoey descends, the truth comes out. Fortunately, The Other Zoey plays this confrontation without histrionics. Zoey does not deflect or attempt to defend her decision. Zach and his family patiently hear her out without interrupting or jumping to conclusions. Neither Miles nor his polyamory is villainised by the film. It’s all mature and respectful. Zoey knows what she did was awful and takes full accountability for her actions. A hurt and confused Zach reunites with his girlfriend, and Zoey, who by now is in love with Zach, walks away. Fret not, though, there’s a whole third act left.
The Great Reveal
True to the tradition of rom-coms, much of this last chapter sees Zoey moping and learning to open up to the world and its possibilities. Zoey’s niche interests and her identity as a “nerd” do not fall to the wayside following her tryst with romance. In fact, her coding skills play a significant role in the climax of the film.
For a film that starts out with the threat of a female lead who is “not like other girls” just because she doesn’t believe in love, The Other Zoey is quietly subversive. Director Sara Zandieh and writer Matthew Tabak come across as true fans of the rom-com genre, leaning into some of its best-loved tropes. Zach’s parents — his mother is played by one of the genre’s most beloved actors Andie McDowell, thanks to Four Weddings and Funeral (1994)— refer to their first encounter as a “meet-cute”; Zoey playfully chastises her mother for giving her “rom-com advice”; and there are numerous mentions of iconic rom-coms, from Pretty Woman (1990) to Notting Hill (1999).
At the same time, the film also makes some deliberate deviations, not the least of which is the decision to imagine a woman coder (the tech world is notorious for being forbiddingly male-dominated). Instead of an elder brother or father figure, it’s Zach’s adorable kid sister who gives Zoey the protective shovel-talk, warning her to treat her brother right. The Other Zoey also dismisses the standard trope of two men territorially fighting over one woman. Instead, the two male leads take a backseat and Zoey gets the space to figure herself out.
By the end of the film, Zoey has realised love is not like an algorithm and that there's no science to it. Without giving away any spoilers about which Zoey gets whom, let’s just say that when the swoon-worthy line “You're the Zoey I want to be with” drops, you will be rooting for the couple’s happily-ever-after all the way.