Zoey 102 (2023) Directed by Nancy Hower
Innocuous but awfully mushy movie based on Nickelodeon’s popular teen sitcom Zoey 101. This time in the ambitious feature film format the beloved characters from the TV series are reunited – all grown up and in their 30’s – for the long-awaited marriage of Quinn (Erin Sanders) and Logan (Matthew Underwood). In contrast to her glorious days as a popular teenage girl at the glitzy, utopian Pacific Coast Academy, Zoey (Jamie Lynn Spears) as an adult doesn’t lead the life she idealized in her high school years, instead, her life is a complete mess. Her best friends on the other hand turned out to be very successful in their respective career goals and even romantically very prosperous. Zoey is still in love with Chase (Sean Flynn) and he with her, yet they haven’t had contact for a long time. It seems that Logan and Quinn’s marriage is the perfect place for this anticipated reunion where once again – and predictably – love dilemmas will collide and ultimately be resolved in what appears to be the culmination of this far-fetched juvenile yarn.
The lack of melodramatic wit makes it all look very fake and emotionally opaque; the synopsis is a shoddy copycat of other romantic comedies more self-conscious than this one. However, as intrusive as the cheesy contrivance of this production is, the exercise in shameless generational nostalgia is persuasive. Indeed, devoted fans of the TV series will feel every minute of retrospective thrill forgetting that the nostalgia factor in this film’s recipe is nothing more than a simplistic method of coaxing. Many things can be argued about its indiscreet tools of sappy manipulation, both positive and negative aspects; nevertheless, that is the least of its countless problems. The bad acting in the innocent, cutesy, childlike sitcom realm of the Dan Schneider-created series are never distracting, but rather are aptly aligned with the TV plasticity of the teen show. Here, for the first time in a movie narrative setup, the atrocious performances are infuriatingly distracting. Clearly, the actors’ lack of experience with the enormity of the format makes visible the fact that they have no idea what to do in front of the camera.
It’s simply too much to digest when literally everything that should be elementary in a movie here doesn’t work at all. Let’s just say that from the first few minutes of its “promising” plot even the most clueless viewer will know what will happen act after act. Nancy Hower’s silly direction never establishes a dramatic hierarchy, but rather lets the plot advance on autopilot without even fleshing out the crucial points of the story. This glaring error creates chaos and discontinuity, the film begins by leading us to believe that the synoptic priority will be Zoey and her insurmountable love for Chase, then the erratic script discards that and we move on to the marriage subplot, and finally back to the Zoey and Chase dynamic. Probably the most enjoyable thing about this failed attempt at a thrilling and joyous conclusion to the series is everything that has nothing to do with the Zoey 101 universe, an irony that evidently gives the movie at least a gloss on its perpetual boredom. This irony is embodied by a new character who plays Zoey’s fake boyfriend to make Chase jealous named Todd (Dean Geyer), an actor hired by Zoey. I still don’t know if what I saw was a parody of the American sitcom tradition or a celebration. Be that as it may, the film leaves no trace of proficiency; it is sterile in its attempt to produce romance and is far too contrived in its tender, smooth, glossy, nostalgic facade.