Zola (2020)

After a year delay, Zola has finally hit cinemas and was well worth the wait. Based on a series of tweets published by Aziah “Zola” King as well as an article written on the subject, “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted” by David Kushner, Zola captures the viewers attention right from the beginning as the titular character narrates various Tweets throughout the film. For those who don’t know, Zola follows the titular character (Taylour Paige), a stripper from Detroit who meets fellow stripper, Stefani (Riley Keough) who encourages Zola to join her, her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and mysterious friend, X (Colman Domingo) in Tampa, Florida. What follows is a series of events that can only be seen to be believed and makes up a weekend full of sex and violence that make for a gripping film. Boasting plenty of new talent as well as familiar faces, Zola is one of the best films of the year thanks to its originality and distinct style.

It’s not often you see films that are based on a series of Tweets but it is thanks to the direction that Janicza Bravo brings as well as the screenplay that she cowrote with Jeremy O. Harris that elevates it to a fantastic level. The direction style is highly confident and fully embraces Zola’s lifestyle while bringing a female gaze that ensures that the female characters are not simply there to be stared at. The screenplay is extremely tight, perfectly based and develops the central characters beautifully whilst remaining utterly hilarious thanks to the use of dark humour throughout. Harris has made a name for himself as a playwright and his debut cinematic screenplay showcases his ability to write for different mediums.

Taylour Paige and Riley Keough are fantastic as the film’s leads, Zola and Stefani, respectively. Although both of them make a living as strippers, their approaches and outlook on life is completely different as Zola has complete control over her career while Stefani appears to be trapped. Paige has proven herself to be the perfect choice for this film as she is able to flit between being a supportive figure for Stefani one moment while chastising X’s behaviour the next. She conveys the wide spectrum of emotions that Zola feels in such a short amount of time and becomes a character that we want to learn more about. On the other hand, Keough has been a firm favourite of independent films over recent years starring in films such as The House That Jack Built (2018) and Under the Silver Lake (2018) which makes her a great choice for Stefani. Her performance as Stefani initially is funny before we learn of the dark undercurrents that run through her life but it never feels as though Keough’s character is a caricature. The chemistry that Paige and Keough have makes for a great onscreen duo which works really well as we see them become good friends while being completely explosive as that relationship fizzles.

Colman Domingo is superb as the film’s villain, X. Not only is he absolutely terrifying but he will stop at nothing to ensure that he gets his money. Domingo is a brilliant actor and has a great filmography to boot so his inclusion as X means that you can be assured of a performance that makes the perfect clash with the titular character. What is particularly great about X’s character and Domingo’s portrayal is that we only learn as much about him as Zola recounts in her Tweets which feels authentic and true to the film’s retelling of what happened. This means that his seemingly unexpected behaviour isn’t justified and that the audience learns about him as Zola does.

Mica Levi is one of the best composers working in the film industry and with their work including composing the game changing score for Under the Skin and receiving and Academy Award nomination for their score on 2016’s Jackie, Levi was the perfect person to turn to for Zola. From the outset, Levi’s distinct electronic sounds are recognisable and work perfectly with the film. Venturing from loud tracks that underline party seems to more sparse and intense tracks that allow the film to enter thriller territory, Levi’s score becomes a key characteristic that works well with helping Zola become its own film.

Overall, Zola is an exciting and riveting watch from beginning to end. The combination of referring to the source material mixed with other character’s online accounts. Never conforming to one genre and always delivering the unexpected, Zola is an incredible and exciting achievement in filmmaking and filled with great performances from the leading and supporting cast.

What did you think of Zola? Let me know in the comments below!

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