As of late, meta romantic comedies seem to be the way to go; it is an approach which allows these films to embrace cliche while lightly poking fun at the tropes in the first place. The Other Zoey follows suit—a love triangle, gorgeous leads, an impossibly complicated situation that requires a lie, and a clumsy grand gesture are all within, gift-wrapped for the rom-com fanatics. This type of cute and quirky PG-13 offering presents a whimsical, nostalgic tribute to the rom-coms of days gone by.
Leading The Other Zoey are a trio of up-and-coming talent in Josephine Langford (After series, Gigi & Nate), Archie Renaux (Catherine Called Birdy, Shadow and Bone), and Drew Starkey (Hellraiser, Outer Banks). Chemistry is key—the natural charm and charisma of each actor becomes essential as the film orchestrates their pairings. Langford plays Zoey, a cynical tech geek who doesn’t believe in the existence of romantic love. She feels so strongly, in fact, that Zoey has built an app called COMPATIDATE to match people based on data-driven compatibility reports. Anyone familiar with genuine love can tell you there’s really no statistic or perfect match that will ensure an ironclad relationship. Perhaps Zoey needs to find out the hard way.
Zoey’s cynical thoughts on love just being a product of capitalism are corroborated by hunky MIT visitor Miles (Renaux), who pops into one of her classes but makes a hasty getaway before she can properly meet him. Bestie Elle (Mallori Johnson), a poet and Zoey’s roommate, thinks Zoey should embrace sexy college soccer player Zack (Starkey) instead. Early on in the film, he accidentally hits Zoey with a soccer ball, leading to an obvious joke about being “hit with Zack’s balls.” Surely his abs should add to the compatibility score?
The inciting incident occurs during Zoey’s shift at a local book store, also part of a college work study program. Zack inquires about books based around underrated classic Rare game Battletoads, Zoey begrudgingly helps him preorder, and he mistakenly leaves behind his credit card. She chases after him down the street on his bike, only to cause him to hesitate momentarily. A person backing up their car careens into him, and Zack goes flying. His head smacks into the ground, triggering an automatic concussion with a side of temporary amnesia. One round of mouth to mouth later, Zack’s eyes flutter open. Zack mistakes this Zoey for his Zoey; yes, by some twist of fate, Zack has a girlfriend of three weeks, also named Zoey.
Zoey decides to stick by Zack, riding along in the ambulance. Little does she know, this simple choice is destined to challenge Zoey’s vulnerabilities and views about romance at large. Decisions to stretch out telling Zack, and eventually his family, the truth are at odds with doctor’s orders: anything to upset Zack, and his symptoms could grow much worse. Romantic-at-heart Elle encourages Zoey to keep up the charade for as long as she needs to. There are worse things in life than being forced to play pretend with one of the hottest guys at their college.
The Other Zoey follows Zoey as she attempts to maintain the relationship with Zack, either for his case or her own. It turns out that Miles is actually Zack’s cousin, visiting for the week as they have a fun family ski trip planned. On paper, Miles perfectly matches everything Zoey wants in a partner. The flirtation she has with Zack seems to surprise her much more though, as the two have a game day at his cushy family cabin where she teaches him how to play chess. Unlike many rom-com leads, Zoey does not frustrate with her decision-making. Josephine Langford imbues empathy and understanding into Zoey’s being. We root for her to do whatever makes her happiest, especially since at the beginning she had zero interest in anyone, let alone two men at the same time.
In addition to the adorable romance of it all, The Other Zoey also builds up a strong friendship between Elle and Zoey. How nice to portray supportive female best friends who don’t try to connive or stab one another in the back with bitchy barbs. In the end though, most will be watching The Other Zoey to find out who “gets the girl.” Scripting duties from Matthew Tabak ensure Zoey is not some prize to be won. She has her own set of emotions and feelings, and the ultimate gesture is hers to make, not for anyone else. What a refreshing change in perspective—one of the many ways The Other Zoey endears its central character. Heather Graham (Suitable Flesh, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) even gets to pop in to deliver sage motherly rom-com advice.
A comfort watch of the highest order, The Other Zoey is one of the cutest movies of the year. Starkey and Langford definitely gave my favorite performances. Imploring people to let their guards down and not view connection on a strictly statistical level, even the messaging feels special, and utterly destined to win over skeptics. Compatibility can only be determined by two people in the end, and should not be forced by outside forces. Sometimes, love is as simply as saying “I like you.”
The Other Zoey tries her luck with the soccer superstar when this sugary sweet rom-com debuts in theaters on Friday, October 20th, then On Demand on Friday, November 10th.