BY ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION
FOR PUBLICATION: BY WILL DATE: 06/29/2021
FILM REVIEW by Richard Roeper
“ZOLA” three stars Zola …….. Taylour Paige Stefani ….. Riley Keough X ……….. Colman Domingo Derrek …… Nicholas Braun
A24 presents a film by Janicza Bravo, written by Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris, based on tweets from A’Ziah “Zola” King and an article by David Kushner. Rated R (for consistently strong sexual content and language, graphic nudity, and violence, including sexual assault). Running time: 87 minutes. Opens in cinemas Tuesday.
The lewd road trip movie “Zola” is the first mainstream movie based on a tweetstorm, and while you might think this is terribly thin source material, let’s not forget that we’ve seen movies that are like on video game apps “Angry Birds” are based children’s trading card series “The Garbage Pail Kids,” the Pepsi commercials with “Uncle Drew” and the LEGO toy sets – not to mention the $ 4.5 billion “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise that was inspired by an amusement park attraction.
Compared to some other stuff, a sequence of 148 tweets is practically literature.
Inspired by a series of 2015 tweets by Detroit-based Hooters waitress and exotic dancer A’Ziah “Zola” King and a subsequent Rolling Stone article by David Kushner, “Zola” became a slippery, violent, harrowing one Road worked out. Travel adventure set like “Spring Breakers” meets “Hustlers” with a little bit of “The Florida Project”. Director Janicza Bravo and her co-writer Jeremy O. Harris have expanded and, in some cases, fictionalized the original series of tweets (which may or may not have been primarily embellishments of real adventure). The result is a raw and sometimes daunting and often darkly funny adventure filled with just enough social media references, e.g. we sometimes hear the familiar Twitter sound effect when something is posted.
Taylour Paige is a more grounded presence as Zola, our tour guide in this insane story (except for one late sequence where the POV changes abruptly and we hear an entirely different version of events).
Zola is a waitress in a chain restaurant, works as a stripper, and seems to be in control of her life and professions – until she meets Riley Keoughs Stefani, a motor-mouthed blonde who sounds like one of those junk-talking patrons on a tabloid TV Show. Stefani quickly becomes friends with Zola and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: They go on a road trip to sunny Florida and earn a small fortune by dancing in some high-end strip club for a weekend. Zola jumps in on the offer without asking any questions. But not long after she’s in the car with Stefani, a mysterious and obviously dangerous man known as X (Colman Domingo) and Stefani’s stupid, betrayed boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun, from “Succession”), she realizes she is doing it should have asked questions.
X drives a high-end Mercedes SUV, but checks the group into a shabby motel in Tampa. It quickly became apparent that the women aren’t really here to dance all weekend; it’s X’s intention to pimp them up. Stefani knew about it, but Zola didn’t know – and when she tries to leave, X takes out his gun and makes it clear to him that this is not an option. Zola feels ambiguous, but she’s still on the lookout for Stefani, urging her to raise her prices to $ 500 per encounter, resulting in an intriguing sequence in which Stefani visits trick by trick, strips naked, and reveals a multitude of genitals before they come down to business.
“Zola” is a powerful reminder of the brutality and ugliness of the sex trafficking industry; Domingo is terrifyingly effective as a monster casually pimping women like he’s selling cigarettes. Director Bravo and her cameraman Ari Wegner give the film a somber docu-drama style that fits the material, and Taylour Paige and Riley Keough are excellent as a couple of hustlers over their heads.
I suspect this won’t be the last movie based on a series of tweets. There’s a lot of, um, stuff out there on Twitterverse.
Short review: “Zola” (crime comedy, R, 87 minutes). “Zola” is a slippery, violent, harrowing road trip adventure that begins when a waitress and exotic dancer from Detroit agrees on a potentially lucrative trip to Florida to see the high-end with a woman she has just met Clubs taking off. Taylour Paige and Riley Keough are excellent as a couple of hustlers over their heads. Rating: three stars.
(EDITORIAL: For editorial questions, contact Josh Peres, jperes (at) amuniversal.com.)
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