Published on July 2nd, 2021 | by Dan Nicholls0
A tweet becomes a movie in Zola with Taylour Page and Riley Keough, but while it’s an interesting story, something gets lost in the translation.
In a tale spilled out over 148 tweets by A’Ziah “Zola” King, the reader is taken along for an imaginative re-enactment of a (mostly?) true story following our stripper protagonist as she gets tangled with a shady new friend on a road trip to Florida gone wrong. Things go from bad to worse tweet after tweet in a series of “and then THIS happened…” jaw-droppers that could make a dead man’s thumb keep scrolling. It’s a wild ride to embark upon but that magic gets lost when stretched out to feature length in director Janicza Bravo’s ambitious but burdened A24-ified Zola movie adaptation.
Strippers Zola (Taylour Paige) and Stefani (Riley Keough) meet for the first time randomly in a Hooters and the two strike up a fast friendship. Their rapport is easy but Zola’s a bit too naïve to see the obvious warning signs in front of this relationship. Stefani set up a trip for them to Florida to do some dancing and make some money, but the addition of Stefani’s straw man boyfriend and her intimidating “roommate” immediately sets the trip off on a weird foot. The moment they arrive in Florida it’s extremely clear Stefani’s got a bit more going on than she first mentioned. Zola uncovers each of Stefani’s many deceits a layer at a time but the audience is already way ahead of them both.
Zola the film doesn’t exactly have the stakes or high drama to make it a thrilling night out at the movies, and it’s too dark at times to be funny. I’m sure Zola the real-life person experienced something far more unforgettable but that feeling isn’t generated here. This movie translation shows us what feels like a weekend without a climax instead of a weekend where some real shit happened. Perhaps had the editing been tighter the events would’ve felt a bit more active instead of just sort of shuffling around from moment to moment. In actuality I’m sure living these moments felt insane and hectic but the film presentation feels unenergetic and deflated.
Top marks for the actors carrying the whole show on their backs: Taylour Paige and Riley Keough as Zola and Stefani, respectively, are non-stop dynamite. Colman Domingo is such a versatile actor and handles the sharp angles of his character (Stefani’s “roommate”/obvious pimp) with the ease of a pro. Even the dude who plays Stefani’s suffering boyfriend looks and acts the part enough that it sets up a convincing visual tableau. The pieces added together look like they would in your head if you heard this story firsthand from someone at a party.
Sadly, the tale of Zola does work best in its original tweet form. A worthy big screen retelling would have required a few more twists, a bit more structure, and a lot less time wasting. Truth can be stranger than fiction but it isn’t necessarily always more interesting.