PETTING ZOO gives us Layla (Devon Keller), a blank-faced high school senior with enough promise, we're told, to win her a scholarship to the University of Texas but not enough guidance or supervision from parents to teach her about contraception or the folly of hanging out with a stoner boyfriend. She seems understandably stuck. Her father, with whom she has little to do, starts yelling when she asks him to sign parental consent for an abortion. She's been living with her stoner boyfriend, so it appears she was smart enough to escape her overbearing dad. But Layla rarely cracks a smile or speaks above a quiet monotone. Perhaps she's just been too beaten down to offer any resistance to his refusal. She makes no plan to go to a state that doesn't require his signature and, again, without any outward expression of emotion, she turns down the scholarship and takes a job as a waitress. Writer-director Micah Magee offers nothing in her portrayal of Layla to show the drive and intelligence that presumably won her that university scholarship. What does ring true is Layla's passive acceptance of all her bad breaks. In her world, family members don't help, people don't care, and no one steps in to save the day, so she doesn't expect it. With no family support and no role models for how to live, it seems understandable that luck would fly away just as surprisingly as it first arrived. The movie offers nothing to suggest that her future includes anything but babies and poverty. In fact, the slow, vague, ambivalent quality of the narrative gives a viewer a sense that violence and catastrophe are more likely to come her way than opportunity and success. Her father calls the pregnancy and desire for an abortion "so typical" of the way she lives. A boss calls her a quitter. It's clear that her life is filled with the judgment, negativity, and low expectations of others.
Starring Devon Keller, Deztiny Gonzales, Jocko Sims
Director Micah Magee