Truth IS stranger than fiction…
You wouldn’t have thought that the energetic and original film in this calendar year would be pulled from a Twitter feed…but there you have it as Zola is a master stroke of filmmaking that keeps you on edge one second, and laughing your ass off the next.
“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”
Thus began the odyssey of one A’Ziah King, aka ZOLA. From acclaimed writer/director Janicza Bravo, Zola’s stranger than fiction saga, which she first told in a now iconic series of viral, uproarious tweets, comes to dazzling cinematic life.
Zola (Taylour Paige), a Detroit waitress, strikes up a new friendship with a customer, Stefani (Riley Keough), who seduces her to join a weekend of dancing and partying in Florida. What at first seems like a glamorous trip full of “hoeism” rapidly transforms into a 48-hour journey involving a nameless pimp, an idiot boyfriend, some Tampa gangsters and other unexpected adventures in this wild, see-it-to-believe-it tale.
To put it as plainly as humanly possible; this movie is fucking NUTS…but it knows it because it’s what makes Zola a brutally honest tale. It’s terrifying, it’s ridiculous and it’s probably the most honest depiction of the lives of sex workers that we’ve ever seen on screen.
It’s not a film about any kind of resolution or ‘a-ha’ moment that these characters are supposed to have about being sex workers, instead it just drops us into this road trip that would keep even the most adventurous of people on the edge of their seats.
In just her second feature, writer/director Janizca Bravo has crafted something that is bordering on genius. Historically in the film medium, storytellers want their characters on some kind of solid ground, but rather Bravo has made something here where we as an audience are completely on edge because we’re never quite sure what’s going to be coming around the corner. She’s effectively built the pure on crazy nature of a world that people who live on the outside of it would just never 100% understand.
With co-writer Jeremy O Harris, they pull from the tweets of A’Ziah King not only in crafting the narrative but in structure as well. Through voice-over and the occasionally jarring smash cut somewhere else, we as an audience feel like we’re experience all of the action while actually ON Twitter. That’s the magic. Through jarring humor and a very visually engaging style from beginning to end we get a story that admittedly runs through some familiar storytelling beats, they’ve just not been executed quite like we see them do here in this film. Bravo had a keen sense of the kind of story she wanted to tell and brought her ensemble through it all note perfectly along the way.
While Taylour Paige only has a handful of credits to her name, there’s no doubt she’s a star in the making as she knows how to command the screen. Serving as basically our narrator, hero and victim all simultaneously during the course of this film we’re going on a ride with her that for better or for worse we won’t soon forget. Riley Keough is fantastic opposite her as Stefani who roped Zola into this insane weekend of debauchery while Colman Domingo manages to make us hate him while being hilarious as the enigmatic and dangerous pimp X. All the actors in this film had a really clear sense of the tone of the story and played into it with genuine gusto, which is a credit to not only them but their director leading them down this insane rabbit hole.
Quite simply, Zola is not a film you’re going to want to miss if only for the fact that you’ve very likely never seen anything even remotely like it. It’s easily in the conversation for one of the best films of 2021.