If someone asked you to imagine what a movie based on a Twitter thread would look like, you’d most likely expect it to consist of 90 minutes of people hurling insults at each other over political differences. So, it is understandable that one would be a little apprehensive about seeing a film that claims to be the first to actually use something from the anger-filled social network as an inspiration. Luckily, writer / director Janicza Bravo’s Zola is here to prove us all wrong, delivering one of the more thrillingly unique movies of the year.
Taylour Paige stars as the title character, a Detroit waitress and sometime stripper, who meets Stefani (Riley Keough) one day at the restaurant. Stefani is a very outspoken character, who immediately takes a shine to Zola, and after a night hanging out with each other, invites her to join along on a road trip to Florida where the pair can allegedly make several thousand dollars dancing at a club. Zola agrees, and hops into a car with her new friend, along with Stefani’s boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and roommate X (Colman Domingo). The 4 seem to get along great on the ride down, having a blast in the suspiciously expensive Mercedes SUV X is driving them in, and after a little bit of tension surrounding the choice of a particularly seedy motel to stay in, the 2 girls have a decent if somewhat unexceptional night at the strip club. But nothing about the trip is as it seems, and Zola finds herself wishing she had never left Detroit.
While the story claims to be based on real events, just how true that is seems debatable. Nevertheless, it is a wild and unpredictable ride that manages to be compelling, suspenseful, and funny throughout. The leads all give stellar performances, but Paige in particular shines, conveying hopeful optimism, detached bemusement, and just a little bit of fear; though another character’s ability to near instantaneously flip between gregarious joviality and simmering menace also stands out. There are numerous little stylistic flourishes throughout the film, but the direction never tries to distract from the story. While it does have things to say about the sex industry and social media, this is above all a fun ride that, unlike Zola, most viewers won’t regret taking. ★★★★
Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, and violence including a sexual assault.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor