Zola (2021)
Zola (2021)

Genre: Drama and Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: June 30th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Janicza Bravo Actors: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nick Braun, Nasir Rahim, Jason Mitchell

 


 

“E

very one of my tables is Froot Loops.” In October of 2015, @_zolarmoon tweeted 148 tweets, which will compose the bulk of this mostly-true adaptation – a larger-than-life vision from a viral social media account. Zola (Taylour Paige) and Gail (Nelcie Souffrant) work at a steakhouse, where Stefani (Riley Keough) happens to come in for a meal. It’s love at first sight – or at least attraction at first sight – which draws the two together to perform at a strip club that night.

Zola and Stefani both have apartments and boyfriends and jobs, but that doesn’t stop them from being fiercely independent and spontaneous. And so, in the spur of the moment, they head to Florida (around 20 hours away) to dance, where they’re certain to make a ton of money over the weekend. It’s quite the decision, considering that they barely know each other, and Zola doesn’t even find out the names – or specific connections – of the two men who accompany them in a luxurious black Mercedes.

Interestingly, despite the lingo and what seems like rash, irresponsible behavior, Zola is smart enough to identify sketchy situations and uncomfortable interactions. She has her wits about her to the point that viewers largely trust her to stay safe, even when scenarios spiral out of control. She quickly identifies the dangers Stefani presents, reading her intentions not only in the moment but also retrospectively, as suggested by the narration. Sure enough, their adventure takes a dark turn, forcing Zola to navigate some very scary encounters. And though she may be helpless in the face of physical violence and guns, she’s practically inspirational when it comes to coping with the traditional hierarchy of power in the world of sex-trafficking. “This is messy!”

Heavily stylized and ultra modern, this dramatic-comedy road trip (decidedly of the 2020s, following a formula of escalating nuttiness, based on Twitter posts) is certainly unique, not only in the characters it chooses to place foremost on the screen, but also in the activities it highlights (there’s even a scene in which people use the restroom – something virtually never visualized on film). The easy scams and easy targets aren’t necessarily original, but the personas are wild, unexpected, and yet considerably realistic, unearthing the gritty underbelly of a system rarely exposed with such sordid, graphic details. It’s unnerving, terrifying, and eye-opening, all while also remaining curiously comedic. A tremendous amount of humor is present, keeping the mood light even when the premise descends into morose realms, utilizing a few music cues to sound as if a horror film.

“You think I’m stupid?” It also offers up an amusing commentary on intelligence, as Zola exhibits a sense of street smarts and uncommon collectedness compared to the clownishness or volatility of supporting roles (Colman Domingo is one of the erratic highlights). She’s quite the unorthodox protagonist for the post-millenial crowd. It’s certainly not for everyone, but this picture is highly entertaining in its nail-biting suspense mixed with outrageous absurdity and frank observations on sexuality and sex work.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10