So you still haven’t seen, the whirlwind film by director Janicza Bravo based on a viral Twitter thread? Look for your favorite two-piece cut (see the image above for more info) and tune in to a screening of an evening of the movie tonight.
Zola entered theaters on June 30 and is now available online on Wednesday, July 21. Watch from 9 p.m. ET on the Screening Room website of acclaimed independent studio A24. Tickets cost $ 20 and let you watch the movie on the web, Roku, or Apple TV. The event will be hosted by actress and singer Janelle Monáe and will be followed by a Q&A with Bravo, executive producer A’Ziah ‘Zola’ King and the cast of Zola. Is the film worth the detour? Hellz yes.
Zola grabs you from the first moment as the film’s main character signals you to stop scrolling and pay attention. “Want to hear a story about how me and that bitch stumbled upon it? It’s a bit long but it’s full of suspense.” The film, based on a viral Twitter thread, pretty much sticks to its narrative source. But thanks to new artistic elements and exploring darker themes in the cinematic narrative, I found myself just as invested in the eventful race.
Zola, adapted from a thread of 148 tweets posted by Aziah “Zola” Wells in 2015, stars Taylour Paige as Zola and Riley Keough as Stefani. Co-written and directed by Janicza Bravo, the film premiered at Sundance in 2020 and finally landed in theaters on Wednesday.
Like the wild and curvy story that first captivated readers on Twitter, the film, which runs just under an hour and a half, packs a lot into its character limit. Dazzling, funny and often dark, the screen adaptation moves more slowly in its second half, but overall the film incorporates new themes and flourishes not present in the thread for a new take on the saga. viral strippers.
Zola, the film’s protagonist, is a waitress in a restaurant when she meets Stefani, a blonde customer with a high ponytail and the appropriate accent. There is an immediate connection between the two, which relates to the stripper background (in the Tweet thread, Aziah recalls this as “vibing over our hoeism”). After exchanging their numbers, Stefani invites Zola on a 20-hour trip to Tampa, Florida to earn some cash.
The new friendship takes a turn almost instantly. Zola quickly tires of Stefani’s manners and their run-down Tampa motel. The second blow comes when Zola learns that Stefani’s “roommate” X, who accompanied them on the trip, is actually her pimp. The rest of the film chronicles Zola’s discomfort as she’s stuck in Tampa with the unsavory ensemble, which also includes Stefani’s boyfriend, Derrek.
Before things take a darker turn, humor draws you into the world of characters. One candid and particularly hilarious scene involves a prayer at a Tampa strip club, where a woman in the locker room asks for higher power for men with “culture” and “good credit.”
But soon, it’s easy to start feeling too much discomfort to stop laughing. In a newsworthy scene at the strip club, Zola performs a dazzling striptease routine. An old man muttering “you look a lot like Whoopi Goldberg” interrupts the footage while stuffing money into his thong.
Considering the original Twitter thread, which runs through its storytelling thanks to Wells’ humorous storytelling (with emojis and expressive use of caps), this movie adaptation could have been more of an action comedy. But Bravo leans more into the dark currents of the material than the Twitter thread.
During the film, I felt a visceral awkwardness, anxiety and dread – when X first threatens Zola, in the back of his car we feel his fear. The film can be overwhelming. There is a grotesque halfway montage of older men having sex with Stefani, with shots of their aging and drooping lower regions. With the director’s rotation, audiences are pushed to feel the intensity of situations more directly than they might when reading Wells’ thread.
Zola outfits are an impeccable detail. Stefani and Zola get out of the car and enter Tampa in all-pink and blue outfits. At the start of the film, they are seen standing a foot apart and facing each other in a dreamlike scene, with sparkling harp music playing in the background. This image not only introduces audiences to the artistic flourishes of the film, but also the connection between the two. I wish I had understood their quick friendship more than the movie allowed, as there is only a short time until Stefani is clearly not what she seems.
Shot on 16mm film, Zola has a grainy, vintage feel, but it also feels uniquely digital. A cell phone chime rings an annoying number of times as Stefani and Zola text each other. In a later scene, Zola dials the X while in an uncomfortably outnumbered hotel room by unknown men, and gets a brutal tone that echoes. It all feels literal, reminding us of the material the story is based on.
A few scenes in the second half of the film drag on. When Zola, Stefani, X, and Derrek spend time in a nice hotel and then back to X’s apartment in Tampa, not much seems to be happening. The ending, less polished than that of the Twitter thread, is unsatisfying after all that Zola has endured.
But overall, Zola feels like a whirlwind that features some wacky, memorable characters. Fans of the Twitter feed may be surprised at this version of Zola’s story, but will likely find something new to love about the cinematic embodiment of the feed.
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