Zola: Sundance London Film Review


Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Anna Kooris.

This is the dawn of a new era – the era of movies based on Twitter threads. Yep, you read that correctly!

Zola, based on the 148-tweet thread written by Aziah ‘Zola’ King in October 2015, tells the story of the wild trip the Detroit waitress (played by Taylour Paige) took to Tampa, Florida with fellow stripper Stefani (Riley Keough). Stefani promises her that she’ll rake in thousands pole dancing over the weekend but Zola is misled and the weekend is nothing like she expected (putting it mildly).

This story is insane and it’s crazy that it’s based on actual events. I decided not to read the thread beforehand and I’m glad because I could just enjoy the wild story for what it was, rather than picking out all the differences as some poetic licence has been taken. It is ultimately loyal to the general gist of the true story, and some of the tweets are directly used in the voiceover, while Zola’s account of what a person said or texted were sometimes used verbatim in the script.

Because it is based on a Twitter thread, Zola doesn’t have the traditional structure and the events wrap up pretty quickly, meaning there’s not much of an ending, it basically just stops! It’s a shame that the later tweets in the thread were abandoned because they would have made a really interesting epilogue that shed some more light on the main players.

Director and co-writer Janicza Bravo makes some bold style choices that weren’t always to my taste – although I loved a cutaway bit showing Stefani’s ridiculous side of the story and the decision to make the actors speak their texts as they write them. I really liked the chaotic energy and unpredictable nature of the piece, the writing (it made me laugh a lot), the costumes and styling, and the performances were A-class.

The story is about Zola but that character is mostly reactionary – she is thrown into this world she has no idea about and is basically stunned by everything that happens. However, I thought Paige gave her a great no-nonsense attitude and her pole dancing skills are incredible. But as she is the quieter of the two, she is often outshone by Keough, who gives a larger than life performance as Stefani, who talks a mile a minute with a very obvious “blaccent”.

Then there are the two male leads. Nicholas Braun – cousin Greg from Succession – is perfectly cast as Stefani’s stupid and clumsy boyfriend Derrek, who basically just comes along for the ride, and then there’s the standout – Colman Domingo as Stefani’s pimp Abegunde ‘X’ Olawale. He seems very pleasant and charming but he can flip the switch without notice and becoming totally terrifying. You do not want to cross this menacing guy.

I advise you not to read the thread first. It is best to go into Zola not knowing much at all because you shouldn’t spoil the wild ride you’re in for.

Showing at Sundance London on Sunday 1st August. In cinemas from Friday 6th August.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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