“You wanna read a review of a film about how this girl and this bitch fell out? It’s about 485 words and full of suspense”.
Zola is based on a 148 tweet-long Twitter thread by A’Ziah “Zola” King about a crazy trip to Florida.
For a movie based on Twitter, there is a refreshing absence and non-reliance on the use of social media gimmickry to tell the story. Some (lesser) directors would have filled the screens with pop-ups, text alerts and Instagram posts, etc. Instead, Janicza Bravo simply uses the Tweet whistle whenever there is dialogue that is a direct lift from the thread.
For a film titled Zola, some may be critical of a central character who appears to be a passenger in her own story. However this is no fault of Taylour Paige and her performance. That is simply what she was. As soon as they arrive in Tampa, she is immediately on the back foot. Her actions are simply reactions to the whirlwind forces that are X and Stefani.
Riley Keough, the current Queen of A24, delivers a committed and fearless performance as Stefani. Effectively adopting a “blackvoice”, using certain negatively perceived and stereotypical language, mannerisms and vocal affectations to build a fascinating but repellent character.
She is backed up all the way by X played by Colman Domingo. Domingo is fast becoming one of the most exciting actors working in Hollywood today and his pimp is slippery, seductive and dangerous. Like a coiled snake ready to strike at any moment.
Almost like she is feeding off his energy, Bravo directs with a wild energy and passion. You never know where the story is going to go and what is going to happen next. This creates a current of suspense and danger bubbling under the surface. One that threatens to erupt at any moment.
It is crazy, it is shocking but it also has a point. Social media apps like Twitter and Tik Tok have given underrepresented voices a platform to tell their story. In its own unique way that thread and this film helps to shine a spotlight on the important issue of sex trafficking in the US.
Undoubtedly a wild ride, at times it can stretch the limits of imagination. “That couldn’t possibly have happened” one may find themselves asking themselves. Sometimes the characters will reply directly to the camera and say yes they did. The issue obviously comes from the fact the story is being told from individual’s perspective. The Rolling Stone did an article about it and did try to corroborate details with the real people (leading to a fun aside during one sequence). Ultimately however, this is a film “based” on a Twitter thread and therefore must be taking at face value.
So buy the ticket. Take the wild, wild ride and enjoy Zola.
Zola screens at Sundance London and is in UK cinemas from August 6
Director: Janicza Bravo
Stars: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo
Runtime: 86 minutes