One of the most anticipated independent titles of the year is Janicza Bravo’s Zola. Based on a viral Twitter thread, it tells the story of Zola (Taylour Paige), a waitress and stripper who befriends fellow stripper Stefani (Riley Keough), who invites her on a trip to Tampa to make money dancing. Joining them on the road trip is Stefani’s waif of an awkward boyfriend Derreck (Nicholas Braun of Succession) and her formidable and domineering “roommate” Sean (Ari’el Stachel). Once the group reaches Florida, a string of lies leads Zola into a saga she did not sign up for.
After a successful night at the strip club, Stefani reveals to Zola that she posted their picture on a website that advertises sex workers. Zola makes it clear that she is not in that line of work, but instead helps Stefani increase her hourly rate and they end up making eight grand. This both enrages and delights Sean, bringing both more money and the threat of Zola’s ability to hustle, alongside her irreverence of him. Sean forces Zola to stay and help Stefani make more money, threatening her and reminding her that he knows where she lives. As this is happening, Derrick makes friends with some local guys who may have ulterior motives.
A24 have established themselves as an exciting distributor of independent cinema, garnering high expectations for this film. Zola, although exciting and entertaining, ultimately fails to reach the standard set by the company’s previous productions. It’s short, clocking in at just under an hour and a half, and ends just when the audience are fully immersed in the story. A Twitter thread that warrants an entire film to illustrate it would make one think that they were in for a seriously shocking and compelling story, but unfortunately Zola falls slightly short.
The film earns three stars as it is stylised to perfection, blending sounds of Tweets to remind the viewer that this story is as modern and current as it can get. The casting is the work’s greatest triumph, with Paige capturing the sharp, witty and disassociated energy of a woman threatened but too proud to show it.
Electric performances and sharp direction from Bravo, but ultimately a disappointing and half-baked narrative.
Zola is released in select cinemas on 6th August 2021.
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Watch the trailer for Zola here: