June 28, 2021

GENRE | 'Zola' Tells A Sordid Tale of Sex Trafficking

"P*ssy is worth thousands, bitch!"
Taylour Paige Riley Keough Nicholas Braun Janicza Bravo | Zola
A24 / VVS Films
Indie director Janicza Bravo adapts the gonzo, wild, and partially true story of strippers road tripping down to Florida then getting in all kinds of trouble based on the 2015 real-life viral Twitter thread (148 tweets-long) recounted by A'Ziah "Zola" King who also narrates the surreal film. The stylish Zola recreates the experience of telling a story through social media with internet language embedded into its filmmaking techniques.

Starring Taylour Paige and Riley Keough as the eponymous Zola and her assailant Stefani, Zola is a Florida-baked riff on the interconnected pulp crime genre—think Spring Breakers but messier. Sometimes, it's a dizzying array of sharp editing, jarring transitions, and rapid-fire tonal shifts inspired by popular online video culture.

Co-starring Nicholas Braun and Colman Domingo as Stefani's meek boyfriend and her menacing African pimp, Zola's many twists and turns make the material inherently compelling. Keough's go-for-broke performance of a dim but underestimated scammer sex worker makes the film feel so random and crazy yet planted in common exasperation while Paige's more demured but sort of grounded demeanour keeps viewers captivated.

Clocking in at just under ninety minutes, Bravo and playwright Jeremy O. Harris' lean script uses its self-aware retelling full of voiceovers and compression of events to pack in many of the details and highlights of King's enthralling story of a road tip from hell. Its zig-zagging form from location to location meeting different unsavoury characters while the sordid stakes get crazier and crazier put in a simultaneously stressful yet exhilarating frame of mind.

Zola doesn't quite live up to the manic must-read entertainment of King's series of posts recounting the dangers of illicit sex work, but it meshes enough elements of crime cinema with a darkly comedic edge to make the seedy but bubblegum-coloured tale of sex trafficking more palatable. It's another welcome high-class account of otherwise seemingly lowbrow material.

More | YVArcade / AV Club / Polygon / Vox

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