(director/writer: Janicza Bravo; screenwriter: Jeremy O. Harris/based on the tweets by A’Ziah “Zola” King and the article “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted” by David Kushner; cinematographer: Ari Wegner; editor: Joi McMillon; music: Mica Levi; cast: Taylour Paige (Zola), Riley Keough (Stefani), Nelcie Souffrant (Gail), Nasir Rahim (Jonathan), Ari’el Stachel (Sean), Colman Domingo (X), Nicholas Braun (Derrek), Jason Mitchell (Rival Hustler); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Gia Walsh, Kara Baker, Vince Jolivette, Elizabeth Haggard, Dave Franco; A24; 2020)

“Some are hooked more than others to her wild story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dark comedy filmed with a light touch based on a series of tweets by Aziah “Zola” Wells’and the article “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted” by David Kushner. The black indie filmmaker Janicza Bravo (“Lemon”) is director and co-writer with Slave Play playwright Jeremy O. Harris. The director identifies with her woman of color heroine, thereby giving the subject the sympathy deserved for telling her wild yarn and even if it’s partly a fabrication as openly acknowledged it still gets over. For the viewer to soak in the story in its fullness they must be willing to suspend disbelief over the far-fetched events. It’s lovable because the ensemble cast do an amazing job making this lurid misadventure road film funny and meaningful.

In 2015, a Detroit waitress, a Twitter user with the handle of Zola (Taylour Paige), sent out over 140 tweets to tell of her recent weird journey to Florida.

As the story goes, Zola meets Stefani (Riley Keough) while she dines at her restaurant and the two connect. Whereby Stefani invites Zola to come along with her to Florida for a chance to make some good money working as a stripper. As they depart, Stefani surprises by bringing along her putz boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Brau) and a mysterious unnamed friend, the lively driver (Colman Domingo).

Things become shaky in Florida when Zola’s traveling companions get her involved in a dangerous game of prostitution, pimps and murder, as it turns out Stefani is a stripper-cum-prostitute with shady connections.

Though the unstructured film’s narrative is a bit messy, the photography by the Shakespeare cinematographer Ari Wegner is pleasing. She masterfully paints the seedy underground scene with an alluring richness of visuals.

“Zola” is mainly dynamic and involving because of the star turn by Paige, who is a great dancer (she’s into ballet) and convincing as a comedian through her one-liner zingers dished out to her unwholesome companions. Paige and Keough are totally in sync, and could be a regular comedy team with such a bad-ass routine.

The film opens with Zola talking to the camera saying “You wanna hear a story about how me and this b—h fell out?” From hereon some are hooked more than others to her wild story.

Though there are too many lapses in the story telling, under the solid direction of the gifted Bravo it had enough smarts going for it to make it a surprisingly good watch considering how raunchy it was.

Zola — Still 1

REVIEWED ON 1/29/2020  GRADE: B  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/