Aimed at Gen Z, Zola has attitude but, arguably, few smarts. The premise is straightforward enough, namely how two twenty-something women fall out.
Zola (Taylour Paige) works at a fast-food restaurant. She’s befriended by Stefani (Riley Keough) who she serves at the diner. Both are pole dancers and they have a night out in a club. The next day, Zola invites Stefani to join her on a trip to Florida, where Stefani says they’ll dance at a club there and make some serious coin. Joining them on the 20-hour plus trip is Zola’s lapdog boyfriend Derrek (Nick Braun) and Stefani’s seemingly good-humoured roommate X (Colman Domingo). But when they arrive, Zola gets far more than she bargained for.
X turns out to be Stefani’s pimp and he won’t take “no” for an answer. Zola is drawn into the web, with seemingly no way out. Meanwhile, Stefani’s boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) is beside himself when he discovers why she’s really in Florida.
The starting point for Zola was a 148-tweet thread about a trip that Detroit waitress Aziah “Zola” King took to Florida with a stripper named Jessica. Those tweets landed in October 2015 and went viral. About a month later, Rolling Stone’s David Kushner published an article in which he interviewed the people involved. And now we have this movie, co-written (with Jeremy O. Harris) by director Janicza Bravo. The film uses the language of a generation – definitely not the Queen’s English.
I’m not Zola’s target audience and I found a lot about this film imbecilic and flat. Having said that, others in the screening I was at appeared to revel in it. From what I could tell, they were in the age range the movie is aimed at.
My reservations started with the innate stupidity and vacuousness of a number of the characters. Undercutting my qualms though is a worthy storyline about prostitution and exploitation. The filmmakers’ treat the material with lashings of humour. The smartest character is Zola, whose radar and instincts kick in; and Paige brings credibility to the role.
I found myself frequently looking at the time, even though Zola had a running time under an hour and a half.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.