Zola

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Zola
"Bravo too often steps back from more serious interrogation in favour of more surface thrills as the girls wave their derrieres in the air like they don't care." | Photo: Anna Kooris

The sort of sleazy shaggy dog story that Quentin Tarantino used to revel in, this film started life as a 148-tweet Twitter thread and a lot of the staccato and scattergun energy that you would associate with social media posts remains in Janicza Bravo's adaptation, for good and ill.

The story is simple but increasingly embroidered as waitress/stripper Zola (Taylour Paige), on a whim hooks up with restaurant customer Stefani (Riley Keogh) and agrees to go on a pole dancing trip to Florida, driven by a mystery "roomate" (Coleman Domingo, who is reminiscent of a young Samuel L Jackson in the way he switches mood on a dime) and accompanied by Stefani's Shaggy-esque boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun). After they go south, everything else does too as the weekend dissolves into a catalogue of pimping, tricking and gun crime, much to the horror of Zola, who just about stays one sassy step ahead of the game.

Copy picture

There's a feel of the TikTok generation about all this, with Bravo's freeze frames and voiced asides, which coupled with a candy coloured look and a score from Mica Levi that channels all the pings and things we've come to associate with social media. The film’s main source of success is in its scrutiny of the nature of performance and of trying on personas for size – not least for social media consumption. This idea of a shifting projection of “self” is best encapsulated in an almost kaleidoscopic sequence we see repeated in which Zola and Stefani put on make-up in front of a mass of mirrors, while Levi’s glissando heavy score recalls the sort of “transformation” music you might associate with Disney films. The women, too, directly reference the idea of being on show as they swap messages about “feeling seen”, while Zola asks herself, “Who do you want to be tonight, Zola?”. Through the course of the film even Domingo’s character – listed as simply X in the credits – will be seen to switch accents/personas when it suits him.

The raw energy and acting that turns the dial all the way up to 11, recalls Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers – which also scratched at the itchy and twitchy parts of the Floridian underbelly – but Bravo too often steps back from more serious interrogation or satirical opportunities in favour of more surface thrills as the girls wave their derrieres in the air like they don't care. Just like that Twitter thread you enjoyed a week ago but can barely remember, this has some fun moments and good one-liners but it's unlikely to linger in the mind.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2021
Share this with others on...
Zola packshot
A waitress goes on a pole dancing trip to Florida with a new found friend and gets a lot more than she bargained for.

Director: Janicza Bravo

Writer: Janicza Bravo, A'Ziah King, David Kushner, Andrew Neel, Jeremy O. Harris, Mike Roberts

Starring: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo

Year: 2020

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database:


If you like this, try:

Spring Breakers