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Zola – Movie Review

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Zola – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy VVS Films

It was inevitable that a Twitter thread would eventually be adapted into a feature film. That time has arrived with Zola, based on a lengthy series of Tweets that went viral in 2015. The original thread was long and rambling, so director/co-writer Janicza Bravo managing to make this film into something coherent deserves appreciation. However, it’s difficult to connect with the personalities on screen and the story isn’t as engaging as one would hope. A few filmmaking techniques are clever, while others grate. Zola is a noble effort, though, and does somewhat succeed in its goal of being unique.

The stand-out element of Zola comes from Taylour Paige in the titular role. Even though the character isn’t written with too much depth, Paige brings a spark to her performance and serves as a decent narrator for the events. Her fear, confusion and occasional excitement at everything that happens comes through. Another actor who makes an impression is Nicholas Braun as one of the people participating in this road trip to Florida. It’s the most overtly comedic role in the film and he properly portrays Derek’s bafflement. Unfortunately, a lot of screen time is spent with another character whose presence gets old rather quickly.

Stefani, a stripper befriended by Zola, is obviously written to be annoying and Riley Keough does what the role requires of her. Everything about her grates, though, and there’s nothing likeable or interesting about her. She mostly serves as a plot device to bring Zola into this journey. One questions why, outside of a mutual interest in pole dancing, Zola takes to Stefani. There’s a heavy emphasis on sexuality in the story, especially when Stefani starts prostituting herself to various men, but a lot of it comes across as gratuitous and gross at times. What’s most bothersome about Zola is the thinness of the story.

Once the entire film has unfolded, one realises not that much has transpired. The characters are all simple stereotypes and aside from maybe Zola, they don’t evolve that much. This could be blamed on the film being inspired by Tweets, but those could have been used as a jumping-off point to dig deeper into the characters. The humour is largely hit-or-miss, too, with only a few amusing moments occurring. There does appear to be a commentary on social media, but the film lacks the expected bite. Bravo and editor Joi McMillon do play around with the narrative in a few inventive ways, like one sequence where Stefani provides her own distorted view of events. There are some nice visual touches, too, although the constant bird chirping on the soundtrack is irritating.

The audacity of Zola deserves to be admired, with Janicza Bravo trying her best to turn the viral Tweets into a compelling cinematic telling. One imagines this won’t be the last film based on Twitter stories and it will be interesting to see what future filmmakers do with that material. However, there’s not much going on beyond the surface and most of the people aren’t fun or interesting enough to follow. The abrupt ending doesn’t help matters and one finishes the movie wondering what the entire point of it all was, outside of telling this unusual story. There’s a wish that the film adaptation could have been even more bonkers, but Bravo gives it a game try. Despite its flaws, Zola is worthy of a curiosity viewing at least.

Stefan Ellison