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Film Review: ‘Zola’ is the Epitome of a Modern Story and a Wonderfully Scathing Social Commentary

A24

Twitter is a dumpster fire. We’ve all more or less come to that agreement, right? It’s an awful place we still go to out of either a work obligation, morbid curiosity, or a straight up social media addiction. And yet, every so often, something amazing comes out of it. The series of tweets from A’Ziah King is one such example. Now, the film adaptation Zola is another. Using King’s tweets and the Rolling Stone article that followed, what we have here is a ridiculously entertaining road trip dramedy that still presents a scathing social (media) commentary. What we see in this movie isn’t always pretty. In fact, it’s often messy. Sometimes, it’s even downright insane. It’s also quite the statement on where we are in 2021. For all those reasons and more, it’s the class of the cinematic year, so far.

Zola is the most modern film you’ll see this year. It’s also, as mentioned above, one of the best. With an amazing initial hook (“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me and this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”), the flick is everything you want out of independent cinema. As soon as it’s over, you’ll want to see it again. What’s more exciting than that?

A24

Based on the Twitter thread by the aforementioned A’Ziah King, this is the story of Zola (Taylour Paige), a waitress in Detroit who’s about to have quite the adventure. When she serves Stefani (Riley Keough), she thinks she met a crazy new friend. Instead, it’s something else, entirely. Within hours of taking her order, Zola is convinced by Stefani to join her on a trip down south. They’re both exotic dancers, so down in Florida, there’s big money to be made. Bored at home, Zola says yes. She figures it’ll be mostly partying. That, sadly, was not to be the case. When Stefani arrives to pick her up with a dumb boyfriend in Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and a nameless driver in X (Colman Domingo), Zola’s spidey senses are tingling. That will be a constant for the next 48 hours.

Once in Florida, Derrek is left at a seedy motel and the girls go to dance. In short order, Zola discovers that the driver is actually Stefani’s pimp, and that she’s going to be “trapping” for extra money. Initially wanting no part of it, as well as rebuffing demands she join in from X, Zola instead begins showing Stefani how not to be a pawn, but instead control her body/income. That doesn’t sit well with X, and things escalate.

Colman Domingo stars as “X” in director Janicza Bravo’s ZOLA, an A24 Films release. Cr. Anna Kooris / A24 Films

This cast sinks their teeth into the material in an absolutely captivating way. Taylour Paige makes Zola both the smartest person in the room, as well as the most observational. It’s hypnotic to watch such a vibrant protagonist always be sizing up the situation. Paige is quickly becoming a truly exciting up and coming actress. Riley Keough is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, depicting a lost woman who society has already thrown away. It’s yet another memorable turn by Keough, to say the least. Then, there’s Colman Domingo, who is the MVP of the film. Seamlessly shifting between easy charm and deep menace, as well as an accent when he’s mad, Domingo makes X a magnetic force. If there’s an Oscar nomination to be campaigned for (aside from one mentioned below), it’s Domingo in Best Supporting Actor. Nicholas Braun is dim-witted and fun, while the supporting cast includes Jason Mitchell.

Director Janicza Bravo stuns here. Along with co-writer Jeremy O. Harris, Bravo adapts King’s tweets brilliantly, discarding what doesn’t perfectly fit the narrative. If Twitter counts as a source, I do hope this becomes the first Best Adapted Screenplay nominee to be based off of a social media thread. In addition to the writing, Bravo’s direction is bold and utter perfection. Every scene in Zola feels alive in a wonderfully unique way. Plus, the choice by Bravo and Harris to have all of the nudity be male, the complete opposite of what 99.9% of other filmmakers would choose, is another reason why this flick soars. That, and the movie has another perfect score from composer Mica Levi.

Zola is the best thing I’ve seen in 2021, so far. Every bit of this film is a force of nature and it truly needs to be seen in order to be believed. Moreover, it should just be seen in order to be appreciated. A24 has another instant indie classic with this one, and I hope an awards campaign is launched. I’d love to see this one shake up the Academy. It’s utterly timely, modern, and a scathing satire of how we interact with the world. Don’t miss it!

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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