‘Zola’ Might Lack Twitter’s Punch But Still Ultimately Succeeds (FILM REVIEW)

Rating: B-

On the evening of October 27, 2015, Twitter user @_zolarmoon began a thread that would almost immediately be canonized as one of the most outrageous, hilarious, and unbelievable tales ever told on the internet. “The Zola Thread,” as it came to be known, is a truly stunning work of internet storytelling that remains unrivaled by almost anything that came before or since. Before it the tale, told by Aziah Wells, aka, A’Ziah King, was even completed users were already demanding it be turned into a movie.

To be sure, the tale, as it was told, is certainly worthy of the cinematic treatment. It has everything you might want from a movie. Sex, violence, double crossing, revenge, a strange cast of characters, jealousy…you name it, really. If you don’t remember it or haven’t read it, you should refresh yourself. While how much of it is true and how much is embellished remains a point of contention to this day, there’s no denying the raw power of the original tweets.

And now the internet has gotten its wish. Writer/director Janicza Bravo has brought to life the unbelievable tale with the new movie, Zola. While in the grand tradition of filmic adaptations it doesn’t quite live up to the original version, there’s no denying the film’s unique voice and strangely alluring power.

Taylour Paige stars as the titular Zola, a waitress/”dancer” who befriends another dancer, Stefani (Riley Keough), and is immediately invited to take a “hoe trip” to Florida take make some money. Things quickly get out of hand with Stefani’s “roommate” (Colman Domingo) forces Zola to help Stefani prostitute herself. Over a wild 48 period, Zola fights for survival and for her sanity as Stefani’s insane world comes crashing into Zola’s.

Paige and Keough offer charismatic performances that largely prop up the film’s duller moments and make the more exciting ones shine all the more brightly. While the translation from Twitter to screen doesn’t quite stick the landing, the two leading ladies provide more than enough reason to enjoy the film. Paige, especially, feels poised to break into stardom. Hers is a nuanced and often hilarious performance punctuated by a sense of absolute realism.

For her part, Bravo has cemented herself as a director to watch. Though not her first movie, and a resume filled with impressive turns behind the cameras for many of this era’s best TV shows, Zola finds Bravo coming into her own in terms of directorial vision and voice. She manages to walk the line between 70’s exploitation film and modern sensibilities which makes Zola an often incredible film simply to look at.

Unfortunately, the script doesn’t quite live up to the source material. Part of what propelled the original thread was King’s indelible voice. Her depiction of the wild trip was hilarious and raw, which doesn’t quite translate in the script from Bravo and co-writer Jeremy O. Harris. Yes, it manages to capture the events depicted in the tweets, but it never quite matches the energy.

None of which is to say Zola is a bad movie. Far from it. Bravo and her leading ladies have managed to make a film that’s never boring and is wholly unique in today’s cinematic landscape. It may not be as uproarious or fantastic as the Twitter thread that inspired it, but Zola is still a fun and entertaining look at modern American culture and all the good, bad, and ugly that encompasses it.

Zola is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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