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Movies & TV

02nd Aug 2021

Zola review: The coolest movie of 2021 has arrived

Rory Cashin

The movie is based on a series of viral tweets from 2015.

“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me and this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

And so begins the story of Zola, based on a true story told through a 148-tweet thread by Aziah Wells (here played by Taylour Paige), a part-time stripper who crosses paths with Stefani (Riley Keough). They both hit it off immediately, before Stefani invites her new friend to head down to Florida with her for the weekend to make some extra money in the strip clubs down there.

Also along for the ride is Stefani’s boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun), and Stefani’s “roommate” (Colman Domingo), and while the trip starts off fun, it doesn’t take long for Zola to realise that everything is about to take a turn for the worst, and she has no safe way out of the situation she’s found herself in the middle of.

I’m being vague on purpose, as the dark twists and turns that the story takes you on need to experienced first hand and without warning, as while the not-even-90-minutes run-time absolutely zips by at a breakneck pace, and the laughs remain pretty much constant, the movie also has the power to morph into something truly nerve-wracking and potentially disturbing whenever it feels like it.

Director and co-writer Janicza Bravo is clearly having a ball behind the scenes, merging together the vibes of J-Lo’s stripper drama Hustlers with the culturally-weighted sensory overload of something like Sorry To Bother You. Every time a character on screen has a line of dialogue that is a direct quote from one of Zola’s tweets, a brilliantly-timed Twitter tweet sound play outs. As the on-screen clock tells us how much time Zola has been in the middle of this Florida madness, the clock then disappears to the audio sting of an iPhone home screen locking.

The peerless soundtrack features tracks from some incredible artists (Run The Jewels, Mykki Blanco, Migos and 2 Chainz all boom through the speakers at one point or another), while the synthy, Drive-esque score by Mica Levi perfectly sets the happy-and-then-unsettling tone that each scene might require.

But more than anything else, what makes this movie soar is that central quartet of performances. Braun has somehow landed a character that is even more of a loser than his Cousin Greg in Succession, while Keough perfectly lands the dangerously untrustworthy side of Stefani, while also making it abundantly clear just how charismatic she can be when she wants to be.

Domingo is absolutely terrifying in a character who doesn’t reveal the full depths of duplicity until very late in the game, but after this, all eyes should be on Paige. A relative unknown, she absolutely sparks off the screen here, armed with scalpel sharp comedic timing, but deep oceans of emotional ranges that ensure we want to spend as much time in her company as possible.

In the end, you might think a movie based on a series of tweets might not amount to much. Instead, the end result is the coolest movie of 2021.

Zola is released in Irish cinemas on Friday, 6 August.

Clip via Sony UK

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