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Daria Puttaert and Tom Keenan in Adam and Zooey.

3 out of 4 stars


Zooey & Adam

  • Directed, written and photographed by Sean Garrity
  • Starring Tom Keenan, Daria Puttaert, Omar Khan
  • Classification: 14A

Canadians have a knack for making depressing films - think Goin' Down the Road, Act of the Heart, Between Friends, Le Confessional. Zooey & Adam is very much in that tradition.

Shot on HD in and around Winnipeg on a budget so low as to be subterranean, it's the story of a couple, the eponymous duo of the title, married one year, who are trying every which way to conceive. One summer weekend - this occurs less than 15 minutes into the film - they head to the bush on a camping trip where a late-night romantic revel is interrupted by a trio of belligerent, drunken males. As the husband is pinned to the ground by two of the threesome, his wife is raped. In short order, she discovers she is pregnant. Is the baby Adam's? Or the result of the rape? Whatever the answer, does it even matter?

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Zooey, who's on the cusp of 30, believes it doesn't: "It's my baby; it's our baby; it's a baby," she declares. "It's ours if we decide it's ours." Adam is not so easily convinced. There's talk of an abortion (she had one at 18 and isn't keen to repeat), of a sperm test (he thinks his count may be low), of a DNA analysis (at 12 weeks, with seemingly a high chance for a miscarriage) -- but finally Adam relents to Zooey's determination to bring the pregnancy to term. It's a fateful decision, the harrowing ramifications of which Garrity traces in unsparing, quasi-documentary detail for the remainder of the film's85 minutes.

What to make of this Canuck Scenes from a Marriage? Certainly Garrity, who reportedly used only a three-page outline as a script for this, his third feature, and let his characters improvise much of the dialogue, was wise to cast fellow Winnipeggers Tom Keenan and Daria Puttaert as the leads. They are a thoroughly credible couple. The same adjective could be applied to pretty much the rest of the cast, including Omar Khan who plays Zooey's new love interest as her relationship with Adam fades over three or four years to a blacker shade of dark and Adam himself unravels.

Had Garrity had the budget to hire, say, Evangeline Lilly as Zooey and Ryan Reynolds as Adam, the film almost surely would have capsized into laughable melodrama. Zooey & Adam remains a melodrama, but its very lack of glossy, blemish-free star power, gives the viewer the sense that real lives are being lived, not just acted. Certainly it's not a great film: for all its handicam-DIY it is pretty conventional, with an ending that swerves into sub-Gothic Robert Aldrich territory ( Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) while too neatly tying up what has gone before.

Still, this is a little movie that prompts big thoughts. Like: Has Hollywood so corrupted our taste that when an unabashedly serious film dealing with truly adult issues crosses our eyes we start groping for dismissives like "pretentious," "overwrought," "excruciating" and "bathetic"? Maybe we should also entertain words such as "brave" and "thought-provoking."

Zooey & Adam plays at the Royal Cinema in Toronto Friday through March 11.

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