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Review: Zola

Zola - A24

According to research, we spend approximately two hours and twenty-four minutes on Twitter every day. Yes, watching those cute animal videos, sharing the latest film news or venting about life takes a lot of time out of your day. But, no matter how many tweets you send out into the world, we’re pretty sure that they’re nearly not as interesting as the 144-tweet thread A’Ziah King, AKA “Zola,” posted in 2015. The intriguing thread featured a couple of sex workers, suspense, betrayal, people double-crossing each other and events that don’t make any sense at all. Even after all this time, the thread’s the most popular one in history, and that’s why co-writer/director Janicza Bravo (Lemon, Hard World for Small Things) turned the tweets into her latest movie Zola. After watching her film, the question still remains: Is a fascinating and unique thread on Twitter the perfect starting point for an equal one-of-a-kind movie?

Riley Keough as Stefani and Taylour Paige as Zola in Zola
Riley Keough as Stefani and Taylour Paige as Zola in Zola // Credit: A24

“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me and this b*tch here fell out?”

That’s how Bravo introduced us to the intriguing movie and its diverse characters. Part-time waitress and part-time stripper Zola (Taylour Paige) is trying to make ends meet, but it doesn’t go as planned, even with two jobs. One day, she meets Stefani (Riley Keough), the typical glamorous woman enjoying the attention she gets from many men. Stefani is, just like Zola, a stripper, and soon the two women hit the same gloriously looking club. This is the beginning of a genuine and close friendship that consists of dancing together, taking ecstatic pictures and having an electrifying time. While the women have known each other for less than 24 hours, Stefani takes Zola to Florida to make more money than she has even had before. While anxiety and nervousness are taking over, Zola still decides to give it a chance as she wants to spend time with her new best friend, and more money is more than welcome.

However, this trip isn’t what Stefani promised and Zola expected! The break becomes a head-spinning one involving Stefani’s pimp (Colman Domingo), her ignorant and clueless boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun), Tampa gangsters with itchy trigger fingers, tons of cash and crazy events you have to see to believe. The more or less innocent Zola is being dragged into all of this. Will she find a way out, or is she tangled forever in a web full of lies, money and sex.

The genuine performances hold this movie together

We all know how hard it is to say what you want to say in one tweet due to the limited amount of characters you can use. To tell her own story, Zola used 144 funny, eccentric and captivating tweets but sadly, those elements get lost in the script. The story and the movie itself are still fun and compelling during some moments. However, most of the time, nothing and everything are happening simultaneously, and it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Yep, a more polished script would have made from Zola a much more impressive and quirkier A24 film, but at least we still got the stunning and genuine performances that hold the film together. While Stefani looks and sounds like a backstabbing and untrustworthy woman, you will still feel for her and the rough time she’s going through, thanks to the incredibly strong performance by Keough. The actress, who already shined in American Honey and Under the Silver Lake, brings such intrigue, wickedness and secretiveness to the screen. She overclasses her co-stars in every scene.

Riley Keough as Stefani and Taylour Paige as Zola in Zola
Riley Keough as Stefani and Taylour Paige as Zola in Zola // Credit: A24

The best scenes are undoubtedly between her and Paige (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, White Boy Rick), who brings out a witty, compelling and fresh performance. She will make sure that you feel what Zola feels, that you sheer for her escape out of that craziness and that you hold your breath when Zola goes through a rough patch.

Sadly, it becomes evident early on in this movie that the male performances won’t reach the same top-notch level. Yes, while Domingo (Without Remorse, Selma) delivers a very menacing and intriguing performance, it’s Braun (The Big Ugly, The Year of Spectacular Men) who doesn’t deliver at all as the simple-minded boyfriend. Derrek becomes too cliché and unsettling. 

Not everyone’s cup of tea

Yes, when watching Bravo’s previous work, you know that her abstract and surreal movies won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and luckily, we all have different opinions about which films we like and don’t like. However, this time her movie might be a bit too over-the-top. While the acting performances are ones you should see, they aren’t enough to make you see past the sloppy and underwhelming script.

Zola is out now in U.K. cinemas

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Zola (Official Trailer)

Also Read: The Unlikely Success of A24

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