If I had to sum up Zero Motivation, I’d probably call it “M*A*S*H but with hot incompetent secretaries and without anti-war pretentiousness.” That kind of captures the feel, though tells you little about the actual movie.
Israel has a kind of half-hearted conscription mandating two years of service to 18 year olds—although one of the exemptions (at least these days) is “low motivation”, which perhaps explains the title of this movie. But with any draft, you get a lot of people who really shouldn’t be there, and when you’re drafting 18-year-old girls, no one could be surprised that you’re going to get some who are worse than worthless (from an organizational standpoint).
Zero Motivation is really the story of two friends, Zohar and Daffi, who are essentially experts at loafing. Zohar is the queen of Minesweeper, while Daffi (whose title is something like “Chief Shredding Officer”) principally occupies herself by sneaking naps and writing letters to command about wanting to be relocated to Tel Aviv. (The girls are in a camp in the middle of the desert.)
The movie is divided into three stories: The first concerns Daffi’s training of her replacement, a girl she’s sure has been sent to replace her so she can be transferred to Tel Aviv. The second concerns Zohar’s efforts to lose her virginity. The third follows Daffi in her scheme to relocate to Tel Aviv by virtue of going through officer’s training.
Writer/director Talya Lavie keeps the proceedings light, over all, even when it touches on serious subjects. Ultimately, this is a movie about two girls and their friendship, and it could’ve worked similarly in a university environment or even a large enough corporation. There is less disrespect for the military than there was in M*A*S*H, or there would be in virtually any modern similarly placed American story. (I think because it’s much harder to make the argument that Israel “opts in” to wars.)
Anyway, it made me laugh to beat the band. Nicely plotted, doesn’t take itself too seriously, but treats its characters with respect. Zohar is played by Dana Ivgy (of the moving Next To Her), Nelly Tagar (who had a tiny role in the dark Footnote) plays Daffi, and the two have a natural chemistry as if they’re really close friends. (The movie does, in fact, pass the Bechdel test.)
Two other standout performances: First, Shani Klein, as the long suffering IC of the girls, who longs to make them into an effective bureaucratic force, and to have a real military career. This was Klein’s first role, making it all the more impressive how she sort of channeled her inner Major Houlihan. Second, the impossibly named Tamara Klingon, who plays the hard-nosed Russian suddenly possessed by a wan, but vengeful, spirit. (Or is she?)
The Boy enjoyed it, though perhaps not as much as I did. The Flower, who still has some trouble with subtitles did enjoy it though, which is a good indicator of how fun it was.
It got a very limited release, but is well worth seeing. You’d never know this was Lavie’s freshman effort.