This is the worst zombie movie you’ve ever watched. Because “Z: The Beginning of Everything” is actually a ten-episode Amazon Original series about quintessential flapper Zelda Fitzgerald. There are enough people on IMDB message boards angry about the lack of flesh-eating hordes, which also answers a lot of questions I have had about people and things lately, that I thought I would start there. But I digress; not-zombie-movie, semi-biographical-historical-drama review commence.
If you haven’t heard about the most fabulous, tragic heroine of the jazz age, Ms. Zelda Sayer Fitzgerald, you might be surprised to know she is quite iconic in some circles. Legend has it, before the Ocarina of Time was a twinkle in his eye, Shigeru Miyamoto named the titular princess in his popular role-playing game, The Legend of Zelda, for her. When we imagine a modern flapper, chances are we’re picturing an incarnation of Ms. Z, who was the penultimate party girl during an age of them.
The story of Zelda (Christina Ricci) and her penman spouse, Francis Scott (David Hoflin), starts before the parties, booze, and infamy that characterizes their burn fast, shine bright lives. Because of the jumping off point, we get a chance to live with Zelda, and for better or worse, see beneath the creative genius veneer of F. Scott Fitzgerald, or as he was known to her and all, Scott. After decades of being painted as the crazed woman who hindered his potential, we see a more nuanced, and if you’ve followed the literary scholars, accurate portrayal of their relationship. With Zelda becoming more of a ghostwriter than the Yoko Ono of the literary world, and Scott becoming more of a lush than the inheritor of a writer’s tendency to take to drink.
I am a sucker for a period drama, and judging by the success of “Hamilton” and “Downton Abbey,” there are more of us lurking out there, more of us than the lists of “viewers like you” and the corners of the theater lobby can hold. I am enamored of the story, the costumes, the sets, and the story. That said, “Z” starts a little slow. As per Amazon’s custom, the pilot episode was filmed two years before the rest of the season and was released alongside a group of pilots to see what stuck to the wall, which offers an excellent explanation for the rocky start. But since the episodes average less than a half-hour each, a slow start is less than, and not equal to, a painful episode of some of the other big streaming shows we’ve sat through. (Ehm, I’m looking at you “The Walking Dead.”) I’m going to go be “that person” and tell you to stick with it, you’ll love it.
Zelda is complicated and not without her problems, but the show is one of the better portrayals of the war inside her between her conservative roots and the pull towards modernity that made her a force that could stand up to Scott but only for so long. Which is a side of her I think is sometimes missed when we hear stories about her or their marriage.
Zelda’s story, filled with gin and jazz and all their trappings, is something of a cautionary tale, and more recently she has become something of a symbol of the mutual exclusivity of marriage/motherhood and art that many women struggle with still today. Most notably illustrated by her misdiagnosis, debatable by some, of schizophrenia. Heavy, right? However, I think Zelda’s story, if allowed to play to the end, has an opportunity to illustrate the problematic way society has handled creative and strong women, especially when those women are mothers and wives.
I think the timing for this series couldn’t be better as we brace ourselves to set the clocks for women back a hundred years. (Note to editor: I had to say it, feel free to delete but please don’t.) Let’s just hope this show has a chance to breathe and capture our sense of imagination and our love of romanticizing the early 20s, and doesn’t go the way of the dearly departed, “Good Girls Revolt.”
You’ll never read “The Great Gatsby” from this side of paradise again. Maybe I’m a sucker for a well done period drama but I give it four and a half out of five champagne glasses.
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