Adapting both the original Twitter thread by Aziah King (nicknamed as the eponymous Zola), and the 2016 David Kushner, Rolling Stone article, Zola is a chaotic tale of how our titular protagonist lands herself on a road trip with her dancer friend and her small entourage, in an effort to strike it rich at an elite Floridian strip club. Hyper-stylised and practically laugh-a-minute, Janicza Bravo’s riotous film has got to be one of the better festival circuit darlings in recent years.
Tragic, Black and crammed full of errors, the film manages to employ just about every brand and/or style of comedy you could possibly imagine and as a result, it morphs into a really engaging and gripping tale that really succeeds all expectations. Having a vibrant sense of personality akin to what you could find via someone’s various online, social media personalities, the constant setup and pay-off of humour helps on all fronts – enriching the performances and cast dynamics, adding an extra edge to the drama and a large factor behind its enchanting and heightened, almost fairytale-like atmosphere.
That atmosphere, in my eyes, stems wholly from Director: Janicza Bravo. From the streets of Sheffield in The Full Monty to the cult adored Showgirls and Steven Soderbergh/Channing Tatum’s brainchild, the Magic Mike films, the ‘stripper film’ is well-trodden ground, and whilst Zola certainly takes elements from its successful predecessors – namely a real strong sense of character and environment – it’s wise enough to stop well short of ever becoming derivative, regardless of the parallels it might share with its genre kin. With infrequent use of intertitles, surreal moments of breaking the fourth wall, conflicting perspectives and a stunning visual front, Bravo’s film is such a standout off the back of its truly unique and one-of-a-kind style, oh and it also gets extra points for its incredible soundtrack of playful sleaze populated by the likes of Migos and Run the Jewels.
A little more on the style side of things, this really does feel like a perfect Soderbergh film. Not to take away from Bravo’s own work here, but I’m genuinely still reeling from the fact that he had no involvement and that all similarities are just a mere coincidence. He’s far from your most artful or even all that ‘serious’ a filmmaker but I’d vouch that the likes of Logan Lucky and to a slightly lesser extent, the aforementioned Magic Mike films (though do note, his roles in the making of the second were slightly lesser) are perfectly “feel-good” and make for brilliant watches on those dingy, rainy days.
And all of this is without even a mention of its absolutely stellar cast and their brilliant, livewire performances. At its core are a handful of really capable character actors, all still in the dawn of their respective careers and all absolutely putting on a show, something that the film’s distribution studio A24 are practically now synonymous with. It’s hard to exactly pin down one over another but the trio of stars, being: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough and Colman Domingo are nothing short of exceptional and are electrifying on top of that. Bouncing off each other and chewing the scenery just as much in their own individual right, the chemistry between them is undeniable and both Paige and Keough could frankly be shoe-ins for lead and supporting roles, respectively, they really do need to be seen.
A slight experiment given the background/inception of the film, Zola absolutely pays off, charming and full of character, it’s an incredibly stylish and lively affair and proves to be another gem within that really particular niche.