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Amazon’s ‘Z: The Beginning of Everything’ Shows Promise
January 27, 2017  | By David Hinckley

A Zelda Fitzgerald series is a wonderful and welcome thing.

It’s also almost impossible to pull off, and Amazon’s Z: The Beginning of Everything, whose first season is being released Friday, gets partway there.  

Christina Ricci (top), the force behind turning Therese Fowler’s novel into this series, plays the title character, who became one of the tragic figures of American literature.

Zelda was married to F. Scott Fitzgerald (David Hoflin, left, with Ricci), who was as good a novelist as 20th century America produced, and they became so intertwined that neither’s story can be told or understood without the other’s.

Because Scott had the higher profile and the greater fame, Zelda is often treated as a footnote, his beautiful, untamed and ultimately crazy wife.

Z reminds us that Zelda was far more than that. Her biographies have noted that she was a skilled writer herself, as well as a painter. Scott drew upon her keen perception of the world, both in conversation and in her journals, for significant sections of his own acclaimed writing.

This series, whose producers clearly are hoping for future seasons, starts with a teenage Zelda in Montgomery, Ala., during World War I.

With a military training base nearby, Zelda and her friends regularly check out the soldiers. One turns out to be Scott, a handsome devil from St. Paul by way of Princeton. He tells her he will become a famous writer. She bewitches him with her free spirit. After the war, they marry, move to New York and hop on a fast train without brakes.

It’s no secret how that ultimately played out. But the first season of Z, which is narrated by Zelda as a “memory play,” only takes them through their first heady whirl in New York.

That fast-lane celebrity life, a microcosm of all the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, was the first thing they both wanted and the last thing they both needed.

Scott has the ominous combination of arrogance and insecurity, while Zelda hides an inherent fragility under a devil-may-care façade.  

One of Z’s sticking points is that Zelda sometimes comes off as such an alpha dog that her vulnerability gets lost. She seems like a wild child who saw Scott as someone who could feed the appetite that had been building all her life in polite, empty Montgomery.

More critical, the power of any Scott-and-Zelda story hinges on chemistry. We have to believe these two were drawn together by a force neither could resist, that their meeting really was what Scott called “the beginning of everything.”

While Ricci and Hoflin play well together, the intensity of that primal force, particularly from Scott’s side, doesn’t always come across. He needs a simmering intensity.

It may also be that the real tone and ambiance of the Fitzgeralds’ story are impossible to capture on film fully, perhaps for the same reason no one has ever made a great movie from Scott’s great novels.

Their real-life story, like his novels, was deeply wistful, exuding a sadness tied to the passage of time and the fragility of life.

The stories are almost ethereal, and telling them with concrete characters may lie beyond any director’s or actor’s skill.

How do you capture passing fragrance in the summer air?

That said, Ricci makes Zelda a lively and engaging character, one we’re rooting for. We get a sense of what she could be, even when she can’t see it herself, and that’s a part of the story that’s too often been lost.

Z makes it clear that it would have taken a miracle for either Fitzgerald to survive their lives intact. The tragedy was theirs, but in some ways, the loss was also ours.

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