Sadie Sink, Theo Rossi, Jessica Capshaw, Kweku Collins
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… emotionally generous performances that are captivating to watch.
On September 11, 2001, lives are thrown into turmoil as the first plane hits the tower in New York City. In that same moment, miles away in Pittsburgh, Tess DeNunzio’s own world is crumbling around her as her younger sister Zoe is killed in a tragic accident. Struggling with grief and guilt, feeling detached from a world trying to deal with its own overwhelming sorrow, Tess turns to her estranged father Nick (Theo Rossi), who offers her a place to stay away from the constant fog of heartache hanging over her family home.
Based on the 2005 novel by American author Philip Beard, Dear Zoe walks the line between coming-of-age drama and a study of how to move forward after unimaginable loss. It’s a positive story, if not a complex one, and Sadie Sink (Stranger Things) in the lead role certainly elevates it above the formulaic elements of the script. Sink brings an emotional depth to the character of Tess that goes beyond what’s written on the page, and it’s her performance paired with the innate chemistry between the cast that truly powers the film.
Despite the subject matter, Dear Zoe is a light watch with some heart-warming moments. The screenplay does itself a disservice by avoiding delving too deeply into its darker themes, instead skimming the surface of the realities of dealing with the death of a loved one by sugar-coating it in all the candy-coloured hues of teen romance, as Tess inevitably finds a way to open up to her charismatic bad boy neighbour, Jimmy (Kweku Collins). The glimpses of true sentiment we get between Tess and her biological dad Nick, as they slowly rebuild their relationship, are the genuine highlights of the film, with both Sink and Rossi delivering emotionally generous performances that are captivating to watch.