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Zola - Film Review

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by Nicholas Gordon (subscribe)
Freelance writer based in Sydney.
Published November 15th 2021
A wild weekend in Florida
In 2015, a waitress and part-time stripper from Detroit named Aziah 'Zola' Wells took to Twitter to tell a story. It all started when a strange young woman named Jessica dined at the restaurant where Zola worked. Jessica asked Zola to come to Florida with her for the weekend to dance in strip clubs. Against the wishes of her boyfriend, Zola agreed. But the weekend didn't go to plan. Things went badly, horrendously so, and Zola later published all the details in 148 tweets, the thread going viral thanks to its incredible details and boosting by celebrities.

Zola's Twitter thread is now director Janicza Bravo's fast-paced film. Taylour Paige plays Zola and events are told from her perspective, save for a brief interlude when Stefani (renamed for the movie and played by Riley Keough) takes narrative control and rebuts that she was responsible for the disasters of the weekend. Stefani is hyperactive and speaks in an exaggerated accent, but is convincing enough for Zola to agree to travel with her. Also making the trip to Florida, much to Zola's surprise, is Jessica's loser boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and a suspicious, nameless man (played by Colman Domingo). The weekend starts inauspiciously when nameless drops them all at a dodgy motel.

Zola is getting suspicious by now, but her and Stefani head off dancing and they make some money. But when the club closes, there's the offer of more work and the weekend takes on a decidedly darker tone. The nameless man is revealed to be Abegunde Olawale, a Nigerian who is actually Stefani's pimp. It becomes apparent that dancing was never what the weekend was solely about. It's also hinted that Stefani knew this and didn't let on to Zola, who must decide how to dig herself out of the quagmire she has been left in.

The supposed events of the weekend (the film opens with the disclaimer that 'most of this is true' and real-life Zola has admitted to embellishing her story) are told in a hectic blur. There are freeze frames and voice-overs and the constant electronic pings of tweets and messages being sent by Stefani and Zola. The quick-fire pace makes things, initially at least, fairly fun. The road trip is going to go haywire and it's kind of thrilling anticipating the trouble.

But when it all does go south, the end result is just gross and silly. There are a few laughs when things turn dark, but as the unresolved narrative strands pile up all over the place, the film can't decide whether it wants to go completely bonkers - or say something serious about sex trafficking, so neither happens. Though stylish in its presentation, Zola can't make the leap from Twitter thread.

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*Nicholas Gordon was invited as a guest
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Why? For a crazy weekend
When: In cinemas November 18
Where: Cinemas nationally
Cost: Varies
Your Comment
A movie from tweets; it had to happen.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|9535) 20 days ago
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