It’s been said only truly talented people can make art so strikingly bad it goes beyond the banal and into the land of jaw-dropping terribleness, and unfortunately that’s the case with the greatly gifted Julie Delpy’s twin misfire titled “My Zoe,” which plays like two distinct movies — both of them quite awful.
The French-American Delpy has renaissance abilities, as evidenced with the 2007 gem “Two Days in Paris,” for which she wrote, directed, produced, played the lead, edited and composed the soundtrack — but this time around, she’s the writer-director-star of a clumsy, off-putting, uninvolving hybrid of domestic tragedy and sci-fi drama with zero payoffs and one of the most infuriating codas of any movie this century.
“My Zoe” takes place in an unspecified near future, with Delpy’s Isabelle a recently divorced genetic scientist who lives in Berlin with her 6-year-old daughter Zoe (Sophia Ally) and seems to spend most of her free time bickering and arguing with her British ex-husband James (Richard Armitage), a controlling and emotionally abusive lout who shares custody of Zoe, blames Isabelle for the demise of the marriage and can barely contain his seething rage at the mere mention of Isabelle’s new romantic partner, Akil (Saleh Bakri). When Zoe falls asleep one night and doesn’t wake up, Isabelle rushes her to the hospital, where she is met by James, and while their little girl clings to life, these two are encased in a glass box of a waiting room within the hospital and fly into yet another rage-filled screaming match. When Isabelle tells James, “You’re just an awful human being,” we nod in agreement but also think: You’re no prize either, Isabelle.
When it seems certain poor Zoe will never wake up, the film takes a whiplash-inducing turn from toxic family drama to flat and ludicrous science-fiction. Under the auspices of saying one last goodbye to her daughter, Isabelle sneaks some hi-tech equipment into Zoe’s room, takes a tissue sample and flies to Moscow to meet with the pioneering fertility scientist Dr. Thomas Fischer (Daniel Bruhl, so low-key HE seems sedated), who has been conducting some groundbreaking and controversial experiments. Seems that even as Zoe’s father and the rest of Zoe’s family are planning to say goodbye to the girl, Isabelle wants some clone time!
Thomas tells Isabelle the technology isn’t there yet and adamantly refuses to help her — until he changes his mind, because if he didn’t, the movie would be over. Thomas’ wife (Gemma Arterton) is horrified by this secret and quite illegal project and rightfully so, as it could well end with Thomas and his associates (and Isabelle) in prison, while some little clone child is brought into the world. (Either that or the manufactured clone pregnancy will kill Isabelle.)
The second half of “My Zoe” is a heavy slog through multiple attempts at creating a genetic copy of Zoe (who of course would not actually BE Zoe) — and then we zoom forward a half-decade into the future, and we get that tacked-on and deeply irritating epilogue, which brings about far more questions than answers, not that we really care anymore.