Zoey and Dylan don’t toast to their oddball friendship when they meet each other after a long time. Zoey is the ‘cruel and unusual friend’ while Dylan is the ‘nerdy friend’. They talk about books in a bar, eavesdrop on conversations, and try to make the most of the night they can spend with each other. This is the story of an adult friendship that has been put through the test of time and survived, of course, gathering some dust along the way. Directed by Matt Sauter, Dylan & Zoey (2022) is not interested in holding up a mirror to the perfections of a long-time friendship. It meticulously seeks to explore the effects of trauma on human lives without spilling into didacticism through a long conversation between two friends. In that, it succeeds with flying colours.
Zoey (played by Claudia Doumit) is in Los Angeles for a bachelorette party when she realises that her old friend, Dylan (played by Blake Scott Lewis), lives in the same city. The film opens with her contemplating dropping a text to meet Dylan as she lies in bed checking out his social media feed. They meet and walk down the road towards Dylan’s house when Zoey stops in her tracks to realise that something is different about him. She makes a few wild guesses until Dylan tells her he isn’t Catholic anymore. Zoey is shocked because the last time they had met, he had taken her along to a Mass; thus begins a night of talking and confessions between two best friends estranged over time.
They take their conversations from the couch to the club and back to Dylan’s house, with every new location seeing them a little more intoxicated and willing to open up about the time they spent apart. How far will Dylan and Zoey go to help each other as friends? Sauter takes a deep dive into the realm of a very well-executed imitation of real-life adult friendship without losing itself to sentimentalism on its way. Some directorial lapses aside, the camera diligently observes from a careful distance every emotion Dylan and Zoey go through, from happiness to anxiety. The nightlife of the city also has the potency of forming a powerful backdrop to the film but it isn’t quite explored.
Doumit is a strong actress. Her performance shines out for me when she is the most vulnerable. For example, when she spreads out the towels on the bathroom floor before entering the shower or stands at the sink looking down at her knee, a hint of resilience glimmers through her calmness. On the streets, she is vibrant and fun-loving. However, as the film progresses, it is splendid to watch her character gradually pull her guard down to reveal herself just enough to satiate the audience’s curiosity without giving her away in entirety. Compared to Zoey’s characterisation, Dylan, as a character, has most of the cards on the table. His character arc seems to revolve around a recurring event of sexual abuse from his formative years (or that’s what we are informed of right at the start of the film). The narrative, then, becomes an act of organising the pieces of his character’s puzzle. Writers Matt Sauter and Blake Scott Lewis do a fantastic job of weaving these characters and their stories into a conversational drama with a vision in mind that it doesn’t lose track of along the way.
Sauter has approached the theme of trauma with careful articulation in Dylan & Zoey, discarding the back-and-white nature of it. Dylan talks about his experiences of sexual abuse with a graveness that he immediately dismisses as he proposes a bar visit. This makes the character instantly relatable and depicts how trauma can simultaneously form the centre of one’s existence while remaining on the peripheries of human thought.
Zoey and Dylan’s friendship is relatable. They fool around with each other, tell each other personal sex stories, and propose to act as the other’s wingman. They are also frustrated about not being in contact enough. However, this frustration melts into a simple exchange of ‘sorry’s and a couple of sips of beer. It is a warm, hot chocolate mug ode to adult friendships and their trajectories. It invites the audience into an eighty minutes-long candid conversation, bringing a new light to the genre of conversational films. Dylan & Zoey can make you want to drop a quick “Hey! Want to catch up later?” text to a friend you haven’t met in a while, so it is advisable to keep your phones handy.