Zipper feels tantalizingly close to being a good movie, but like the sexual pleasure Sam is getting from numerous women, the experience is hollow inside. The film brings together a number of elements that all look like they should fit together into a clockwork kind of puzzle that is both dramatic and wryly funny, but director and co-writer Mora Stephens doesn't quite have the deftness required to form them into a cohesive picture, even with as strong of a lead performance as she gets from Patrick Wilson here.
For the first twenty minutes, watching the movie is frustrating, because Stephens doesn't make it clear that the viewer isn't meant to sympathize with Sam as he becomes intrigued and finally sets up a date with one of the women on an escort website. While she and co-writer Joe Viertel take the time to include a scene where Jeannie seems to be interested in having sex and Sam declining, they spend twice as much time on Sam's hemming and hawing about taking the next step, first looking up the website, then digging a little further, buying a burner cell phone, setting up a date, and finally, sleeping with Christy (Alexandra Breckinridge), which he insists afterward is a one-time thing. Drawing out the process would seem to suggest he's wrestling with himself, but it's so obvious that what he's doing is wrong and selfish that sitting through it is tedious. It's only after he becomes completely addicted that it's clear Stephens is more empathetic than sympathetic, observing a man that is falling apart.
Part of this can be attributed to Wilson, who manages to exude such a nobility and sincerity that it becomes genuinely annoying that he can't stop himself from making the wrong decision. As the story develops, so does Wilson's performance, with a desperation and anxiety creeping in that weakens the charm. At his lowest point, in one of the film's best scenes, he sits with one of the escorts (Penelope Mitchell) and has a genuinely emotional conversation, touching on something sincere...only for him to end their meeting by thrusting the rest of the money in his wallet at her for a quickie right there, in his car, in some deserted parking garage. While it's frequently hard to believe a lawyer would do some of the things that Sam does, which seem to be leaving a pretty obvious "paper trail" for anyone to pull up (especially given his intent to run in a local election), Wilson keeps the film as steady as he can, remaining consistent even when the screenplay's qualities ebb and flow.
Upon arriving in the home stretch, the film becomes especially muddled, developing Jeannie into more of a character at the last minute instead of properly building it up throughout the movie. Using Jeannie, Coaker, and a campaign manager named George Hiller (Richard Dreyfuss), the film takes its political subplot and suddenly brings it center stage, and in the process makes it very unclear what it is the viewer's supposed to be focusing on. Zipper is intended to be a film about infidelity, morals, and politics, but instead of weaving all three strands together, the elements pile up in a three-way accident at the end, after the viewer's been riding shotgun with morals for the first 70 minutes. In the film's final scene, the word "donation" leaps off the screen, clearly positioned as the final blow in what is envisioned as a scathing comic indictment. Throughout the film, Stephens plays with the focus, leaving characters who are speaking or seemingly central to the scene blurry while resolving on a secondary character in the background. While it's an interesting choice, it speaks to the film's problem: what it is that Stephens actually means to say remains vague and inconclusive, while the rest of the movie sharply observes a cynicism aimed at nothing in particular.
The Video and Audio
Trailers for The Runner, Fading Gigolo, Welcome to Me, People, Places, Things, and Strangerland play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Zipper can also be found, with these individual trailers, in the special features section under "Previews."