Picturesque origins aside, the film is an upbeat affair about three rebellious high schoolers who run away from unhappy homes somewhere in the hinterlands and head for Hollywood. They don't get very far, and not much bad happens to them. And the movie is not so bad either, but neither is it distinguished enough to hitch its way into many theaters. The presence of Jenny Seagrove ("Local Hero") and lead Vanessa Zima ("Ulee's Gold") might help in ancillary excursions.
An affair appealing mostly to women from start to finish, "Zoe" is a meandering saga that at times awkwardly loses focus but never strays too far from its path. The subjects of spousal abuse, delinquency and Native American spiritualism are handled believably, but the central plot of Zoe's quest for roots and guidance is conveniently shouldered by a stranger whom the lead and her friends Sarah (Stephi Lineburg) and Ally (Victoria Davis) hijack at gunpoint.
This unbelievable, quickly forgotten development occurs early on when the three runaways can't quite get out of a diner without a policeman giving them a fright. The stranger in question is English shrink Cecilia (Seagrove), on a mission to scatter the ashes of her deceased mother, who lived out her life in a shack near "sacred Indian grounds." Proud of being one-eighth Native American, Zoe longs to find her roots and healthy mothering, but Cecilia keeps her at arm's distance.
With an easygoing episodic structure that works in character-driven comedy and nary a swear word or unpleasant moment, "Zoe" climaxes when the lead and Cecilia -- leaving behind Sarah and Ally -- find those sacred grounds and the nurturing friend of Cecilia's mother, Red Shirt (Gordon Tootoosis). While Cecilia comes to know what her mother was like -- and approves -- Zoe almost gets roasted in the desert when she takes a spontaneous step toward enlightenment.
The character as written and Zima's performance as Zoe are distractingly one-note after the early scenes of her bad home life. Perhaps female viewers will feel differently, but there's not enough tension or doubt about the outcome. Unfortunately, when it does conclude, there are one or two leaps meant to be taken on faith that don't make the whole scenario go down any smoother.
and Bill Kenwright Films
Director: Deborah Attoinese
Screenwriters: Deborah Attoinese, Amy Dawes
Producers: Bill Kenwright, Carole Curb Nemoy, Mike Curb, Ram Bergman, Dana Lustig
Director of photography: Samuel Ameen
Production designer: Charles M. Lippross
Editors: Lawrence Maddox, Richard Weis
Costume designer: Clara Ronk
Music: Dan Pinnella
Casting: Mary Margiotta, Karen Margiotta
Cecilia: Jenny Seagrove
Zoe: Vanessa Zima
Sarah: Stephi Lineburg
Ally: Victoria Davis
Red Shirt: Gordon Tootoosis
Mrs. Callahan: Kim Greist
Julian: Oliver Parker
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating