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Zero Motivation
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by Jay Seaver

"Daffi and company are, in fact, kind of daffy."
4 stars

Having a crappy job or two is often a rite of passage for folks in their late teens and early twenties, and if you live in a country like Israel with mandatory military service, having that turn out to be your crappy job means that you've probably gotten pretty lucky, compared to how things could have turned out. The joke, of course, is that those for whom that is the case are too young and fortunate to realize it at the time, and that adds a nice little sting to the already quite funny "Zero Motivation".

Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and Zohar (Dana Ivgy) are both doing their time in the army as office support on a fairly remote base in 2004, and they've become best friends during that assignment. Neither is particularly hard working, with Daffi enough of a ditz that her entire job is shredding papers, but she still craves a transfer to Tel Aviv and thinks she has it when replacement secretary Tehila (Yonit Tobi) gets off the bus with them after a weekend leave. Things do not go as planned, though - not for them and not for Rama (Shani Klein), the actually-committed officer in charge of the office, which also includes testy Russian Irena (Tamara Klingon) and Livnat (Heli Twito) & Liat (Meytal Gal), who have an annoying habit of singing in unison all day long.

Zero Motivation looks to be a sort of slacker comedy at first, and that probably describes the film as well as anything, although both the setting and the cast mark it as out of the ordinary for that genre. Talya Lavie breaks it into smaller (though connected) stories, rather than the string of funny anecdotes one might be expecting. Things also take surprisingly dark turns at a couple of points, showing that the insanity in this situation is not just fish-out-of-water absurdity, but something approaching genuine madness.

In between those moments, Lavie finds a steady stream of funny bits; it's no surprise that there are laughs to be mined from people who really have no business in the military, and the scene is well set in a lot of ways - there's a definite sense of slackerdom in every detail of the environment, but not so much that it makes the entire military itself a joke. The three stories flow into each other in impressively smooth fashion, letting one bit's gag or tragedy be the thing that drives the story of another section without making it less funny in retrospect. And while some of the characters are a bit underused - Livnat & Liat are a gag that never really pays off - the core four are an entertaining balance of types.

Dana Ivgy (Zohar) was the one recognized as a lead rather than a supporting actress at the Israeli Academy Awards, and that's fair; she is the one who is the most constant presence throughout the movie. Ivgy makes Zohar tart and quite funny, able to serve as both foil and instigator, developing a distinct, funny personality of her own even alongside her co-stars with the much broader characters. One of them, Nelly Tagar, certainly seems like she'll be the lead at the start, and that's kind of a neat trick considering that his sort of airhead tends to be a side character in even the zaniest of comedies. Tagar makes her very human and funny even if she is immature and not that bright to boot, enough that the audience feels a pang of disappointment as she's shuffled off the stage. Shani Klein is quite the opposite, with Rama coming off as the Frank Burns of the picture initially, but there's a consistency and a core to her that anchors her even as the film continues to point out the ways in which the character is kind of off. Tamara Klingon does an impressive job of making Irena abrasive and then milking laughs out of a situation that might not be that funny, while Yonit Tobi makes an even more severely one-extreme-or-the-other character work.

That Lavie and her cast can move between feather-light comedy and potentially-unsettling material is impressive, although I suspect that grounding the film so thoroughly in the ordinary means that it works as something of a Rorschach test: You can look at the everyday silliness of life for these women and see either the general absurdity of war or something that just must be accepted, and while the involvement of men isn't the only reason their lives get screwed up, there's certainly a pattern there. Lavie is not apparently looking to drive any particular point home, in a way you can't miss, even if she does have a definite perspective.

And in some ways, it's better for a comedy to allow a viewer to go digging underneath than to make them do so, so long as the surface is able to get a laugh. Lavie manages both of those tidily, and in doing so builds "Zero Motivation" into one of the year's funnier little gems.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26470&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/13/14 14:33:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2014 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Talya Lavie

Written by
  Talya Lavie

  Dana Ivgy
  Nelly Tagar
  Shani Klein
  Heli Twito
  Meytal Gal
  Tamara Klingon

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