You may know Julie Delpy as an actress and star of the much beloved “Before” trilogy with Ethan Hawke. (She also received Oscar nominations for co-writing two of those installments.) But Delpy is also an established and highly-respected director. Her latest feature (#7) is “My Zoe”, which she also wrote and stars in.
Delpy plays Isabelle, mother to young daughter Zoe (Sophia Ally). Isabelle is separated from husband James (Richard Armitage). The opening section of the film revolves around the divided couple battling over their shared custody schedule for their daughter. The anger and animosity is palpable.
An event happens which dramatically changes the focus and tone (though not nearly as dramatically as what comes later… but we’ll get there). The first half of the film will be difficult for most parents to experience. It’s somber, frustrating, painfully authentic and only a tad too drawn-out.
Then, at the halfway mark, “My Zoe” takes a jarring turn. It’s incredibly gutsy for Delpy to take the story down the path she takes it. Characters played by Daniel Bruhl and Gemma Arterton enter the picture, though I won’t go into who they are or why they’re involved because it would give away way too much.
“My Zoe”’s fascinating and legitimately bizarre second half will inspire post-viewing conversations on a variety of topics. It also heightens our emotional stance on Isabelle. Delpy has written her as quite unlikable. The character makes a number of choices that are unfathomable – yet, at the same time, understandable. It’s a tricky wire that Delpy walks perfectly.
The screenplay is flawless, with the exception of some foreshadowing at the very beginning (a moment I wish was cut-out) and very late. The casting is spot on (an aside: Lindsay Duncan, who plays Delpy’s mom, could pass for Delpy’s mom in real life), and the performances are stellar across the board.
“My Zoe” is grim, provocative, heartbreaking and absolutely unforgettable. Don’t read anymore about it. Just experience it for yourself.
LCJ GRADE: B+
“My Zoe” is now playing in select theaters and will be available on Video on Demand May 25th. Running Time: 100 min.