ZOLA is directed by Janicza Bravo. The film stars Taylour Paige and Riley Keough. It’s based on Twitter tweets from Aziah “Zola” King.
In 2015, Zola King is working as a waitress but also as a stripper part-time. When she meets fellow stripper Stefani and the two work together at a club one evening, they ultimately embark upon a journey to Florida to work at a lucrative club and earn more money. But it isn’t long before the stranger-than-fiction tale, posted to the internet, takes on a life of its own, and the girls find themselves in over their heads, forced into a situation in which they must sell themselves to stay alive and in the good graces of Stefani’s dangerous pimp boyfriend. Will the girls make it back from the trip alive?
After having seen ZOLA, one thing was going through my mind, and that’s that I’d never seen a movie like it before, and probably never will ever again. I mean this both good and bad ways. Part black comedy, part gritty and dark drama, the film is awash in unexpected tonal shifts that’ll both shock you and make you laugh. It never quite comes together or gets the proper conclusion it deserves, but it’s an interesting ride, albeit not one for the squeamish or easily offended.
The highlight of ZOLA is its titular woman, portrayed by Taylour Page. Whisked away on a trip that ends up being nothing like she thought, she’s the “straight woman” of this trip, a far cry from Stefani, who’s apparently more accustomed to this life. Zola herself is likable and not overly sexualized by the film (although the director does have her wearing a sexy bikini for a few more scenes than were probably needed), and she gives the story the gravity it needs. I look forward to seeing this beautiful young lady in more films in the future.
While much of the rest of the supporting cast fares well, I sadly can’t say the same for Keough’s Stefani. This character isn’t likable at all, and hearing her obnoxious ghetto trash accent from start to finish grated on my ears not long into the film; clearly the writers and Keough wanted this character to be funny, but her mannerisms and style of speech borderline on offensive, and there just really isn’t that much likable about the character. This probably isn’t too different from the real-life person on which the story is based, but 90 minutes with this woman, despite her beauty, was too much for me.
The tone of the movie is also all over the place. I won’t deny that this movie did make me laugh and it shocked me, doing both things on more than one occasion. But the tonal shifts are far too abrupt, and the movie never quite finds its footing Those looking for a comedy will be horrified and shocked by some of the scenes they find here. Those who want a gritty drama about sex, strippers, and prostitution will be in shock at many of the jokes that feel tonally inappropriate for what unfolds here. Additionally, the film contains a surprising amount of full-frontal male nudity (and surprisingly, barely any on the part of our stripper heroines). The film has received an R rating from the MPAA, but this is one of those instances where I feel an NC-17 would’ve been more appropriate.
One other thing – you’ll be hearing that Twitter notification sound a lot throughout this movie. It’ll get on your nerves. Consider yourself warned.
It’s tough to say exactly who ZOLA is for, because it’s so unconventional a film - it’s based on tweets with a narrator of questionable reliability, so can you really expect anything else? Shifting tones without warning and featuring a decent cast but no sound conclusion or moral boundaries to speak of, it’s a hard film to assess. There are things I liked about ZOLA, namely Page’s performance as the title character, but it’s an over-the-top hodgepodge of ideas that never quite manages to gel. See it if you’re curious, but don’t go in if you’re easily offended.