If you’re looking for a black comedy that is based on a Twitter thread that went viral for its outrageousness, which resulted in a Rolling Stone article as well, then look no further than Zola – although granted, that is quite the obscure basis to use when looking for some Saturday night viewing. The article, “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted”, the story? A waitress from Detroit is seduced into a weekend of stripping in Florida for some serious money, but the trip becomes a crazy 48-hour escapade involving a double-crossing friend, her beloved pimp, and her idiot boyfriend. When you do Florida, you do Florida right.
Zola is a cocktail of sex, violence, friendships, deception, and danger, it is 100 miles an hour this film, the characters all match this pace, within minutes you are entangled into their world, and it causes a feeling of trepidation, a wariness that things are about to go down. Zola is a manic box of tricks, it kind of has a little bit of everything; there is a lot of that quirky millennial humour that litters the social media age we live in, the subtitles were very much appreciated so I could understand this new language of the young people.
Stylistically, Zola again comes across as very impressive – unorthodox yet innovative – I tip my hat off to Janicza Bravo (she’s the director by the way) who is someone to keep an eye on after this exciting outing. I loved the way it was shot by Ari Wegner; filmed on 16mm and offering a grainy, vintage feel. It is unusual and hectic at times and the music runs parallel to that feverish style, jostling with one another throughout – it is exhilarating and quite the rollercoaster.
We are first introduced to Aziah “Zola” King (Taylor Paige, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) a waitress and part time stripper, Zola meets Stefani (Riley Keough, The Girlfriend Experience) at her diner and the pair are automatically drawn to one another – the energy is red hot, and the high-pitched squeaks are loud. With the two now being best friends (it hasn’t even been a day), Stefani asks Zola if she wants to go to Florida to make some easy money stripping for some wealthy clients, Zola soon accepts the offer and their journey begins, with them being joined by Stefani’s “roommate”, “X” (Colman Domingo, Lincoln & Selma) and Stefani’s fish out of water boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun).
The girls record their every move online because if you don’t post it, did it even really happen? Things begin to turn sour very quickly, and the manipulation and the dark acts start to make themselves known. Mr. X is in fact Stefani’s pimp, and Zola is blackmailed into spending the upcoming nights looking after a host of creepy men and sex addicts with Stefani, until they are allowed back home. The depiction of the disgusting and chauvinistic nature of men with their singular tracked minds, lusting for women and power is brilliant and hilarious, holding no punches in highlighting this. There is also a lovely little montage of a prostitute at work that leaves nothing to the imagination, it really is right there in front of you.
This true story is so crazy and extravagant that you almost don’t believe it could happen, it balances the whimsicalness of social media reality and the harsh reality of urban areas so well, fluttering between the two so effortlessly. Paige and Keough are brilliant as well, the pair of them erupted through their characters, both are fearless and determined to make the best out of a bad situation. They are a mystery to us, and still are long after the film has finished, although if you are to learn one thing about them, then their values and morality are that very thing, which speaks louder than anything else. Zola is unorthodox but very enjoyable, it is punchy and full of zest and personality, it will tickle all your salivating taste buds from start to finish.