Director Janicza Bravo adapts a 2015 tweet thread for her second full-length feature in A24’s Zola. On a regular workday, Zola (Taylour Paige) meets a sex worker named Stefani (Riley Keough) at a restaurant where Zola is a waitress, and the two immediately bond over pole dancing.
Only a day after they exchange numbers, Stefani invites Zola on a cross-country road trip. The goal is to make as much money as possible dancing in Florida strip clubs. Zola agrees, and suddenly she is trapped on the craziest, most unexpected trip of her life. Partaking in a wild two-day trip with Stefani, her boyfriend Derek (Nicholas Braun), and Stefani’s violent pimp, X (Coleman Domingo).
After the viral response of the initial 146 –tweet thread back in 2014, Rolling Stone writer David Kushner wrote an article titled “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted”. Which I believe serves as the primary basis for Janicza Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris’s script. However, before I get into my review, I am reminded of a conversation I had with fellow critic Michael Dequina of TheMovieReport.com way back in 2007.
The gist of the conversation was how long it would take Hollywood to take a social media platform and turn it into a full-length feature. Fourteen years later, there have been numerous films made about social media. Everything from awards nominated fares such as The Social Network and Eighth Grade to mediocre tripe such as The Emoji Movie and Friend Request. So how does Zola measure up?
As I exited the press screening, my immediate reaction for Zola was it is a ton to process. Zola is a film you will like or you won’t. Furthermore, there will be a ton of think pieces on the film. In particular centering on the way its characters are treated. I will not go into the depth of some of the debauchery that graces the screen; however, I am surprised they got away with an R rating.
Fresh off a performance in Boogie, Taylour Paige continues to impress me with her acting. However, Zola should be the film to open more mainstream roles for the actress as she is the only sane one in the entire movie. Even those around her are going off the rails; Zola keeps a somewhat straight face. I fully understand why she made the decisions she made. There was never a moment when I questioned her loyalty.
Similarly, Riley Keough continues her rise to the A-List. While the thespian hails from a famous family (Elvis is her grandfather), ever since her breakthrough in The Girlfriend Experience, Keough has erased any claims of nepotism. Keough brings her A-Game to the role of Stefani. Earlier I alluded to the think pieces that are sure to arise from the film, and I know that Stefani’s arc will be one of them. However, given that the real world is full of Stefani’s, I am not mad about how Keough played the role.
The supporting cast of Nicholas Braun and Coleman Domingo as Stefani’s boyfriend and pimp are two sides of a coin. Braun is a beta male, while Domingo is an alpha. Both men slide into their roles with ease and have memorable moments. It was also great to see the talented Jason Mitchell in a brief part.
Janicza Bravo is a talented director. I commend the director for using emoji’s and all facets of social media in telling her story. In addition, Janicza Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris’s script for the film keeps a fast pace through its short length. However, I am giving viewers a warning that this is a VERY HARD R, so just prepare yourself.
With great performances from its cast and impressive direction, Zola is the wildest time you will have at theaters this summer.
Final Grade: B+
Zola opens in theaters tonight