A young waitress finds herself on an eye-opening trip to Florida after meeting a ditzy stripper who promises her she can help her make thousands.
Zola is truly a film that grew on me the more it continued. During the first few minutes of the film I wondered what I had walked into. The film had a character so annoying that she was beginning to grate on my nerves and I was beginning to think that this was one of those films where I begun to clock watch and dream about what Lygon Street delight I was going to have for lunch. But then something wonderful happened – the film with its own sheer brilliance won me over.
Directed by Janicza Bravo (Lemon) Zola is a film literally adapted from a Twitter feed. It follows of the story of what happened when waitress and sometimes stripper Zola (Taylour Paige – White Boy Rick) meets zany air-head Stefani (Riley Keough – American Honey).
The two become besties and soon Stefani is telling Zola that she needs to pack up for a weekend and travel down to Florida with her because she has found a club where the two can make thousands of dollars in just one weekend. However when Stefani turns up to give Zola a ride she soon learns that they aren’t the only two going on the road-trip. No suddenly there is the seemingly fun-loving X (Colman Domingo – Fear The Walking Dead) and Stefani’s seriously stupid yet seriously devoted boyfriend, Derrek (Nicholas Braun – How To Be Single).
And while Derrek seems to only be a danger to himself as he dreams about making Jackass-style videos Zola soon learns that this money-making trip is going to become a nightmare when she realises that X has different plans for both she and Stefani.
To Janicza Bravo’s credit she is a made a pretty sensational film. Like I said early on this film seemed like it had nothing going for it. Zany social media heavy dialogue that made Stefani and Zola so unlikable that I wouldn’t have cared if they had both been run over by a bus. But sit back for twenty minutes and you realise what Bravo has done is nothing short of genius. She takes the Twitter-speak that this film was born from and soon it is erased away into a movie that is as hard-hitting as anything that Larry Clark ever delivered as a director.
Don’t get me wrong Stefani still remains an annoying character for most of the film but soon you begin to realise why she is that way and you also soon begin to feel for Zola. Her bravedo at the start of the film is soon eroded away when she realises the world of danger that she has suddenly found herself in and you soon find yourself ‘barracking’ for her. The fact that the screenplay also allows for some pretty witty quips despite the danger the characters find themselves in soon makes you realise that you have stumbled across a pretty special film.
Bravo allows Zola to move along at a slow but sweet pace and she touches on some pretty graphic topics in a way that isn’t too off-putting for its audience. This is not exactly the kind of film that you should take to your Grandmother, unless your Grandmother enjoys strippers and drugs, but it is also not the kind of film that you are going to walk away from feeling like you have been scarred for life. Let’s put it this way if you have been able to handle alternative gems like American Honey and Tangerine over the past few years then you are going to be just fine with Zola.
Not only does Zola showcase Janicza Bravo as a young director to watch in the future but it also announces the arrival of Taylour Paige and Riley Keough. Keough straight-away comes across as an actress that could conquer any role sent her way while Paige is a natural leading lady. With sass and acting skills to match she could easily be as at home in a alternative drama or an action film – the world is her oyster.
I should also not forget to mention Nicholas Braun’s performance here either. Braun is brilliant as the pathetic Derrek and he often steals the scenes away from his talented co-stars. Like Paige and Keough I can only hope that he is given more roles to play with in the coming years.
Zola is not a film that everybody will feel comfortable with. It explores the gritty and dark side of stripping and prostitution but has a quick wit and humour to it that makes it the perfect blend of Go! meets Showgirls.