Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About his Father is a movie about a guy who was killed while trying to break up with his girlfiend, who was pregnant with his child at the time. Apprently Andrew was an upstanding citizen, he went to medical school, he had a nice life, and a TON of friends, as you can see in the b-roll of past social gatherings and all the interviews taken after his death. This is where the mind-fuckery begins.
When your brain is just about jello’d out from all of the bad cuts and overlapping audio, you realize maybe there isn’t actually a story here.
Dear Zachary is one of the most infuriating films I’ve seen since Map to the Stars. Dabbling in a little video editing myself, I noticed all kinds of faux pas trickery in this so-called art film.
Is it a satire? Or are the film makers just trying to piss off the critics? Maybe they’re being clever, who knows. I can only say that there are quite a few reasons why Dear Zachary is hard to watch.
The title. Being a journalism major, I expect the title of a movie to set the tone. Just as a refresher, it goes “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About his Father“. The journalist/filmmaker is documenting a cross-country/overseas journey to capture the history of the Bagby family tree and Andrew’s murder. The filmmaker starts writing a letter to Zachary, the woe-be-gone child bred out of Andrew and some psycho chick Shirley’s short-term love. And he doesn’t finish it… at the end of the film, the filmmaker changes his mind and decides the film/letter should be addressed to Andrew’s parents (Kate and David) instead.
It’s not coherent at all. The mockumentary basically centers on our antagonist, Shirley, who supposedly killed Andrew, then later killed herself and their son, by jumping into the ocean…
I mean, what the hell? The title of the film is not appropriate at all. If it were rewritten, it would be called “Dear Zachary, sorry you’re dead and your mom was a fuck-up, but your dad’s dead, too, because she killed him, but it’s fine, because your grandparents are awesome.”
If this were a true documentary, as it appears to be at first glance, then the viewer would actually be able to hear a full interview, or see a photo, slowly zoomed in, Ken Burns style, and left there to hang for a moment while the audio plays out, then goes silent, to leave an empathetic effect embedded in the mind of the wayward Netflix explorer, but instead, we get all discombobulated by the botch-job editing of the film.
There is no discernible way to fully grasp a single sentence from any of the interviews shared in the film. You are not allowed the two-second repose to stop and think about how much you hate this Shirley woman, or how pathetic Andrew’s death is, or how cute Zachary’s fat cheeks are, because the director cuts to another interview a word or two into the thing. Cue a clock, cue an office chair, cue random Agatha Christie murder mystery sirens with a bit of the theme from Halloween for added emphasis. I mean, come on. Can we actually get into the story without being ripped apart mentally? Give me a second to breathe, will you?
I was told it would be fast-paced, but the phrase indicates the story line moves quickly, like a Michael Bay film where robots are taking over the planet, SURPRISE!, and a hot skinny chick strips out of a motorcycle jumpsuit to reveal a nice sun dress, then there’s explosions, and more robots, blah! That’s fast-paced. Dear Zachary is heart-wrenching in the sense that’s it’s almost unbearable to watch, because your brain literally can’t comprehend what’s going on at any given time.
It looks like they’re using real photos and video footage from Andrew’s, Kate’s and David’s past. Are they actually related? Where did they get those micro-movies that Andrew starred it, at the helm of his childhood friend, when they were kids? Andrew died at, what, 28? The filmmaker must have dug through years of scrap books and video files to find that archive. He really did a good job making this film look like a real documentary, so it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that it’s a phony… (Ow, my brain.)
And then all those though processes are smashed to bits by the fact that this couldn’t ever happen, really. How does a practicing physician with a simple medical degree go from the states, to Newfoundland, and back again. How did he get over there, exactly? Where did he meet Shirley, again? When did he break up with his former fiancé, which they don’t really talk about, not quite. And if this film is indeed intended to be shown to Zachary at some point, why is it meant to look like his father was a chump, his mother an Insane Asylum escapee, and there’s not a lot of sentiment toward the kid at all, is there? There are too many loopholes to count.
The story, itself, has no congruence. Everything seems to happen concurrently. The way it’s shot, the sound bites used, all of it, it just happens all at once. I mean, Andrew’s alive, then he’s dead, then he’s a medical student, then he’s taking photos that only one friend knows about–and there’s too much emphasis on that fact–then there’s this kid and the film is suddenly about Zachary, then there’s Andrew’s life again. Ugh. Please shoot me.
The only redeeming quality of this movie is the acting. Whoever was responsible for casting, A+. Andrew’s parents are spot on. With the father’s crew cut and all. People are crying at the drop of a hat in the interviews, there’s so much b-roll, it’s insane. All of the actors are genuinely in pain at the recollection of the events leading up to and taking place after Andrew’s death. The cast is genuinely concerned over the fact that Shirley somehow manages to escape jail multiple times.
Last thing, and this is the kicker: A lot of scenes are repeated. It’s comical. You think this film is a serious documentary, until you hit the halfway mark and you see the court-appointed attorney’s lips haphazardly Photoshopped to look like one of the Canadian characters on South Park. It just draws you back out of the story, like, OK. I get it. This is supposed to be funny, right? Then there’s the audio, where you hear, “specific in nature, specific in nature, specific in nature,” repeated a thousand times, while a whir of images and close-ups of badly handwritten notes, and otherwise nonsensical documents (“weight of the spleen: 34 grams”) flits by almost unnoticed on screen.
And there we have it. Now, you’re as exhausted as I am… Sorry for the intrusion into your perfect little life, but this film is shit. At the end, I think I understood what the director was going for, but I probably don’t get it all, honestly, hence the extreme malice exhibited in this article.
So, if you want to see what I’m talking about–if you need a good chuckle or feel like there must be a reason for you to destroy that old monitor that you’ve been meaning to get rid off–check out Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.
It just makes no sense. Maybe you can help me out in this department, but yeah. It’s awful. Just downright criminal, to pardon the pun.
If you have Netflix, here’s the link: Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Goodnight, and good luck!