Film Review: Zola

Spoilers ahead!


Well, this is quite extraordinary, to say the least: A film based on a viral Tweet thread that is actually … good? The film in question is Zola or as it’s stylized, @zola, as directed by Janicza Bravo about a wild night of stripping, Backpage and much more. The story follows the titular Aziah “Zola” King (played by Taylour Paige) and Stefani (played by Riley Keough) and why, from Zola’s perspective, “me and this bitch here fell out.”

“It’s kind of long but full of suspense,” is how King began her viral thread. I somehow missed the thread at the time, but if I had seen it, I would have kept reading because it really is THAT crazy and full of twists and turns.

Bravo, in only her second writing and directing gig for a feature-length film, is what makes this adaptation of a viral 148-Tweet thread come to life and crackle with chaos, vibrancy and yes, suspense. As I was watching, I felt like I was a line of coke snorted up Stefani’s nose and then was watching all of the proceedings from the tip of her nose, as voyeuristic residue.

The film starts with a chance encounter where Zola works and is the waitress for Stefani. Both have backgrounds as strippers. From there, the chance encounter blossoms into a spontaneous jaunt down to Florida to make money stripping, at least as far as Zola believes. Instead, it turns out that Stefani is turning tricks (prostituting) with her pimp and mentally unwell, cuckolded boyfriend in tow.

It honestly feels like reading a Twitter thread in that, you’re vibing through the thread, scrolling down, smirking, laughing, disbelieving, muttering, “What the heck???” and so on, and then before you know it, the story is over and you go back to scrolling your feed. That was wild. That’s how the movie ends, too. As abruptly as one’s interaction with a viral thread.

For that reason, I sort of have a weird feeling after the movie? Well-acted, well-directed, wild in the best ways, but also, that sort of icky feeling you get when being invited into a crazy story and bearing witness? That feeling.

This is perhaps the most modern-feeling movie I’ve seen in quite some time, for better and for worse and for all the chaos that entails. There’s an authenticity in Bravo (and the cast) diving right into it. Unabashed. Facing it. But also, looking back like, “Whaaaa just happened?” Bravo manages that dichotomy of immersion and detached meta observance.

I offer my kudos to King, who had a movie made about her thread and earned an executive producer credit. Good on her.

My biggest takeaway from the film and the reason I would recommend it to somebody is because Bravo is someone on my radar now. Her style is distinct, interesting and captivating and helped to elevate the source material to something artistic in its own way.

Paige really pulled off the Zola vibe of, “This is all crazy and I’m scared as heck, but also, I like to, and have to, put on a strong face and attitude to make it through this ordeal.”

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