Review: Bonkers true story roars to life in wild 'Zola'
Courtesy of A24
“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”
That was the viral message seen around the world when A’Ziah “Zola” King, in 2015, launched a 148+ Twitter thread detailing an outrageous and unbelievable 48 hour odyssey involving all types of explicit and illegal activities ranging from prostitution, kidnapping, violence to attempted murder, suicide and a wacky batch of characters. When Rolling Stone collaborated most of the tweets as true (despite a few embellishments), it’s now the subject of Janicza Bravo’s “Zola,” which bottles all the above into a satisfying if uneven 85-minute flick that desperately needs a smoother ending and sharper editing transitions.
Bravo took in stride the undaunting task of transforming Zola’s thread into a coherent and bananas road trip movie that certainly takes creative liberties, but often finds inventive means of translating tweets into a feature length film. Equipped with a stacked cast ready to keep the momentum flowing, in “Zola” you can hear the internet buzzing, capturing the spirit of “Tik Tok” and “Snapchat” (and, of course “Twitter”) in one swoop. Bravo populates the film with the classic “Twitter” sound effects like a canned laugh track on a tireless sitcom as if to remind audiences how suspended in reality “Zola” could be.
The film begins when waitress and stripper Zola (Taylour Paige) captures the attention of Stefani (Riley Keough), another fellow dancer who seems stuck in a rut. The two connect instanously and swap phone numbers awaiting for a gig that might potentially earn a huge payday. That day comes quickly, and the two book a trip to Florida with the hope of dancing for high rollers. Zola doesn’t even question why Stefani’s scrawny and annoying boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and a mysterious roommate (Colman Domingo) are along for the ride, but they seem harmless enough.
It’s smooth travels until Zola pieces the narrative together, unraveling a web of secrets that not only sees her in a backpage ad (an online website that solicits sex for money), but Stefani’s roommate is a ruthless pimp with a sadistic edge. It’s the wild turns by this cast, Paige, Keough and Domingo, that help refine some of the rougher edges. Keough, between “American Honey,” “The Florida Project,” and “The Lodge” is the queen of keeping it real and authentic while Paige’s sassy, “you don’t mess with me” attitude gives “Zola” its beating heart. Domingo, playing against type, pulls layers from a maniac who can sport a smile in one second then slam a gun down your throat the next. Never has it been this fun to watch Domingo let loose and go for broke.
Bravo keeps “Zola” as breezy as she can, but the harsher subject matter - sex traffiacking and assult - are blended in with a variety of genuinely funny moments, (Braun, who will now and forever be known as Cousin Greg, gets the brunt of it playing the quirky Derek) that fosters an awkard vibe. On Twitter, “Zola'' certainly reads in one direction and if not for the presence of Paige and Keough, who are an infectious pair, “Zola” would struggle. They’re along for the ride, and obviously, we should be too. However crazed and unhinged it might come across. Full of suspense indeed.
ZOLA opens in theaters Wednesday, June 30th