My first experience with anything LGBTQ-related was when I was ten years old. One day at school a boy called me a lesbian for wearing glasses in the playground.
To this day, I am still trying to work that one out.
Now, at the time, I didn’t know what a ‘lesbian’ was (frankly, I don’t think he did either), but I figured it wasn’t a nice thing to call someone. When I told my teacher about it, she hit the roof. She dragged him out the front of the class, shouted at him and said he had to handwrite an apology to me and get his mum to sign it. The next day I received a note saying I’m sorry I called you a lesbean. (Note to bullies, if you’re going to insult someone, at least learn how to spell the word!)
I went home and asked my mother what ‘lesbian’ meant, since my teacher hadn’t explained during all the shouting. Mum patiently said it was when two women were in love.
I didn’t understand how that applied to me, but I didn’t question the concept or ask any of the million questions I had in my head at the time. I just thought my fellow student was being stupid (hilariously, this kid found me on Facebook about eleven years later and unsuccessfully tried to put the moves on me).
I tell this story to highlight that my early understanding of the LGBTQ community was limited at best. Not homophobic, but not something I was exposed to a great deal. As I got older, I learned a lot more about the community but I never watched many LGBTQ films. So, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I tuned in to watch Zoe.Misplaced.
Filmed on a small budget thanks to Pozible, and directed by Mekelle Mills, Zoe.Misplaced shows the life of Zoe, a young twenty-something uni student. She lives with her best friend Coal, is close to her brother, watches Dawson’s Creek, and happens to be a lesbian.
Zoe finds sex overrated, is not a fan of hooking up with multiple people, or sleeping with your ex just ‘to feel wanted’. But all that changes when she crosses paths with Nat, an attractive blonde. Who happens to be Coal’s ex, and the girl Coal is currently sleeping with. Zoe falls in love, and this results in serious consequences for Zoe and the people she loves most.
Generally speaking, Zoe.Misplaced is a solid film with clearly a lot of effort thrown into it. There is definitely a passionate team behind this, and it is truly refreshing to see such an unbiased film, with really no political agenda behind it, about an average young woman who is trying to navigate life. That being said, there is still a bit of a mixed bag here. There are some elements this film does perfectly, and other pieces missing.
- The Dialogue
Sort of a strange thing to comment on, but honestly, watching this film is like watching real life in a lot of scenes. It’s witty, clever and extremely accurate to how real people talk and interact with each other.
- The Story
It’s not flawless, but this is still a story that is real and relatable. It could literally apply to any relationship pairing. It just happens to be about two women.
- The Setting
While clearly low budget, the production takes full advantage of the resources it has. Newtown is a charmingly off-centre suburb and this allows for some nice shots and a unique world for these characters. Speaking of which….
- The Characters and the Acting
Right from the outset, you know Zoe isn’t your typical leading female. She’s prickly, even a little sullen and brash, and you wonder how likeable she’s going to be. The first thing she does during the opening credits is take a coffee machine from outside the Salvation Army. So, is this a delightfully quirky character trait, or should we be emotionally disturbed? But as the film progresses, her undeniable charm is intoxicating and you find yourself rooting for Zoe and her unconventional view on life (and seriously, how often do you see a young character knitting in a feature film?!?) Hannah Raven Smith shines as Zoe, carrying the film with dignity and grace. Her crowning moment comes in the ending scene when her relationship with Nat is finally stripped to the naked raw truth.
Clementine Mills is clearly having a lot of fun as the devious Nat, commanding attention every time she appears on screen. Mills is a very unique actress, and she’s not afraid to embrace her one-of-a-kind performance. Let’s face it, we’ve all known someone like Nat. That mysterious, attractive femme fatale who remains an enigma no matter how close you get. Is she all she seems? Is she sweet? Is she sincere? You’ll spend the whole film and then some trying to figure her out.
Kaska Zielinski does her best as Zoe’s housemate Coal, the friend we’ve all had, appearing tough but eventually cracking under pressure. Zielinski has some truly excellent moments, particularly when the script calls for an emotional climax, but her performance seems a little forced during the quieter scenes. Ryan Bennet makes the most of his supporting role as Tom, and John Manning is a delightful screen presence as Zoe’s brother Ben.
This is a well-chosen cast with rounded performances, and they all clearly believe in the material.
What Doesn’t Work
- There’s a lack of focus on what the message behind the story is. One of Coal’s first lines is “We say we want to stray from stereotypes, yet we do nothing to diminish them,” So, is Zoe.Misplaced a comment on homosexual stereotypes? Not really. Is it about the inevitable crossover of sexual partners in the lesbian world? Not exactly. Is it a warning on whirlwind romances? Kind of. Is it a cautionary tale about letting your love life blind you to what’s truly important? Maybe.
Honestly, while watching this film, there were times when I truly didn’t know what direction the story was headed, but I still wanted to stay with these characters and find out where they would end up. The film seems to want to explore/comment on a lot of things, but doesn’t really go all the way through with them. And with no clear message, you come away wondering what exactly to take from it. Even the ending (no spoilers here) is abrupt, and leaves the viewer in a state of shock. There’s no real closure or answers. It’s just an ending. However, this is often how life works. Sometimes there is no resolution. These things do occur, and you may never get an answer.
- Without wishing to seem unkind, there are a few plot threads mentioned seemingly out of nowhere and others that are left hanging. For example, there’s a scene where Zoe’s friend Tom complains to her “You spend all your time with Nat; I never see you,” So, you never see her, Tom? Then why have you literally been interacting with Zoe in every scene for the past ten minutes? And Coal takes drugs? Since when? Things like this evoke the number one DON’T of writing: the dreaded “tell don’t show” device.
However, I can live with those things. The one plot thread that was sadly left behind was Zoe’s relationship with her brother Ben. Without giving away too much, Zoe finds herself in a situation where she believes she has no choice but to let her brother down. What happened there? How did he react to this? Did he ever get her message? How did this affect their relationship? Did he cut her off? Did she cut him off? We’ll never know, because Ben is never seen or heard from again. This could have been a huge turning point for Zoe, both from a story and character point of view, and it seems like a missed opportunity. I don’t know if the writer didn’t consider this or there was footage left on the cutting room floor, but Ben’s storyline seemed maddeningly unresolved.
- The editing at times can be a bit choppy, and some scenes have liberal amounts of shaky cam. This could be due to the film’s budget or the fact that the director chose to use two cinematographers.
- The film is long, clocking in at 113 minutes. Again, with tighter editing, this could have been shorter. There’s a few scenes that could have been shortened and a couple that simply didn’t need to be there.
In all seriousness though, at the end of the day most of my minor gripes with Zoe.Misplaced can probably be attributed to the micro-budget, and I freely admit to being a serial nitpicker. I believe Zoe.Misplaced could have done with at least one more rewrite, maybe another pair of eyes to tighten what is, at it’s heart, a very sincere story. Overall, there is something very touching and bold in this script; it’s just not fully realised. It’s still a great effort, and if you watch it, you’ll be glad you did.
The Australian film industry is tragically neglected, and this is subject matter which is even more swept under the rug. I applaud the filmmakers and cast for their unapologetic and honest depiction of the LGBTQ community. It would have been so easy to go the typical equality/coming out road, but instead, they have chosen a very different and very mature path that I’d love to see explored in the future. This is not a perfect film, but it’s a taste of what could be, and it’s a film that will stay with you for a long time.
To stream Zoe.Misplaced, visit https://vimeo.com/120257597