Twitter is rarely used by me; I’m honestly surprised ANYBODY is still using it to be fair with all the wildfire negativity and hatred it’s garnered and spread over the years. Who ever thought a Twitter thread could be made into a movie? Well, apparently A24 did because their latest film @Zola was inspired by exactly that: a real life Twitter thread spreading 148 pages about a blossoming ‘friendship’ and a road trip to a strip club in Florida that ended in a shootout.
I’m actually shocked to say this was the first A24 film I felt skeptical about. I can’t say why honestly; just something about it felt odd and off-putting…..
…..and this movie is another reason why I should’ve never doubted them.
You may not be here for it but the very presence of director Janicza Bravo should be discussed here.
This woman bent over backwards to get the actual Zola on set for the movie for months and kept her in the loop to make sure it stayed as faithful as possible to her story; thus, she protected her thick and thin to assure that the current bureaucracy in Hollywood wouldn’t profit off of the story, pain and complexity of yet another person of color…..and she made sure to keep that in mind for the audience watching as well as her direction highlighted a discomforting and disorienting story by design. Add some deft commentary on the intimacy of social media, cultural appropriation and pragmatism with a broader appeal, this story is basically Training Day for strippers.
Presentation wise, there’s this slick but gritty aesthetic skill to it, as much of the film is shown in a stylized manner that makes it seem a bit more "whimsical" and detached from reality in a laidback, fun type of way. It even glossed its way into the musical score with beeps, whistles and pings that feel more nostalgic rather than dated all while the cinematography rides heavy on the momentum of the pacing to where I’m certain it can rival Uncut Gems. Sure, it’s nowhere near as claustrophobic or tense as that film but again, what’s the best case scenario for making a real life horror movie? How about having your life spiral out of control?
Even in the more lavish of environments, production design reflects a cumbersome uneasiness that the script utilized tenfold and with the exception of one, all other solid cast members are heavily overshadowed by its two lead performances, both of which are prolifically terrific. Newcomer Taylour Paige is a firecracker, domineering and commanding the screen from only facial expressions and reactions alone while Riley Keough is legit terrifying here.
Their actual characters are little to be desired though, starting off as caricatures of the very thing we’re used to seeing in this environment but we eventually see their true intentions shine through despite not fully crawling out from their shells.
Not even this film stays 100% to Zola’s actual story however and some scenes are dramatized just for the sake of it……then again, the movie flat out tells you that at the beginning. And yes, the ending is rather abrupt. But for what it’s worth, A24 still has not let me down. Compelling in its wit yet ultimately chilling in the harsh realities it depicts, similar to the thread that inspired it, it’s a remarkably uncomfortable depiction of trauma and exploitation and it’s made very clear that it’s not for the faint of heart; not everyone’s cup of tea.