Zola

This is a messy and extravagantly entertaining movie. It is unpredictable and fascinating. It uses the medium of film to its fullest extent. I really enjoyed this movie, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

The movie has an unusual production history. It is based on a Twitter thread that was written by Aziah “Zola” King that chronicled her time with a friend who nearly roped her into a human trafficking situation. The film is based on Zola’s own words as well as a Rolling Stone article that covered the thread as well as the various perspectives of those involved.

The movie is written and directed by Janice Bravo. It is shot on 16mm film which lends the movie a vivivd and saturated color palette as well as a grit and grain that perfectly captures the tone of the story, beautiful yet dirty. It stars the wonderful Taylour Paige as Zola, and Riley Keough as her new friend Stefani Zola’s new friend who invites her to Tampa to make some money.

Zola is a part time stripper trying to earn a little extra money. Stefani is a girl she meets at the restaurant where she works. The two of them hit it off and connect very quickly. Before too long, Stefani is insisting that Zola come to Tampa with her, her roommate, and her boyfriend in order to do a little dancing and make a lot of money.

The roommate is played by the ever excellent Colman Domingo. Domingo is an actor that is not a household name although he should be. He’s one of those actors who elevates every role he’s in. Here he is charming and charismatic then he’s terrifying. He shifts accents continuously throughout the movie depending on the scene and his mood. It’s a great performance.

The movie plays with filmmaking is such a fun and inventive way. Zola is narrating her own story and offering constant commentary on what’s happening. She has a startling blunt way of cutting to the core of the scene. There is also a really fun and fascinating sound design that uses a musical trill to denote major shifts and changes as well as using the sound of twitter to emphasize moments. There’s also a really cool scene in which the only sound on the soundtrack is the noise of two kids playing basketball. The rhythmic slap of the ball against the pavement creates a unique tension.

The movie flies through its unpredictable plot with a wonderful swift pace. It doesn’t linger or belabor moments. It is constantly surprising us with the next twist and turn or fortune for these unfortunate people. I love a movie that can surprise me. So many movies are predictable to a fault. Here is one that is full of delightful surprises.

Now, the movie is definitely not for everyone. It deals very frankly with sex and sexuality. It deals with the seamy underbelly of human sexuality. Prostitution and trafficking are major themes in the film. There is a scene that has been described as a penis parade in which the men who pay for sex are shown in full frontal flashes that will definitely put off some viewers. It has flights of cinematic fancy as when different perspectives are incorporated and visual motifs are carried out. The subject matter and execution might be off putting to some, but if you’re looking for a unique film viewing experience this one is certainly it.

This one is totally my cup of tea. It is an excellent use of all the tools in the filmmaking belt to tell a unique and compelling story. I highly recommend it if it sounds like it might be your cup of tea too. A-

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