In the fever dream in which ‘bitch’ is a term of endearment, Zola encapsulates the world’s greatest twitter thread as a riveting and catastrophic force.
Celebrating the narrative’s digital origins as a 148-tweet viral Twitter thread, Zola integrates the social media platform into the film realm, highlighting the breadth of skill in Janicza Bravo’s and Jeremy O. Harris’s talent as writers and the insanity of Aziah “Zola” King’s story. This intrinsically funny and dark comedy continuously drags its viewer on a roller-coaster ride, with the threat of catapulting the viewer into a new stratosphere at any given moment. Clinging to the edge of your seat, you can’t help but realise you have been holding your breath as boundaries are consistently broken and stakes are consecutively raised.
Based on the real-life experience by Aziah “Zola” King, which is referred to as The Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted, this film is shaped around recounting the story of Zola (Taylour Paige) and Stefani (Riley Keough), which is “kind of long but full of suspense”. Drawing connections between the narrative on-screen and its digital origins, the film consistently pulls from the source material to create an intriguing and enticing movie.
Starting with a surrealist montage of Zola and Stefani, the film begins at their first encounter. Riddled with sexual tension and homoerotic subtext, their relationship blossoms into a deceptively close friendship. After several scenes of them texting and calling each other, accompanied by an almost romantic harp score, Zola is reluctantly convinced to join Stefani on a weekend trip to Tampa, Florida. However, the film’s rose-coloured sunglasses come off as Zola soon realises Stefani’s deceitfulness as she is forced into sex work. Zola is thrust into a life-altering weekend as the trip leaves her pining for an escape and clinging for life.
The film’s uniqueness lies in the means by which it integrates its Twitter origins within the narrative. Through Zola’s voice-over narrations and dead-pan reactions, the comedic timing is aspirational. With a narration that cuts through the discombobulated story like a knife, Zola maintains a light-heartedness through incredibly turbulent situations. By utilising Tweet sounds and visuals on-screen that mirror iPhone settings and volume, the film interacts with technology to create a unique storytelling format. Not only does it pay reference to the original form of the story, but it further highlights the surrealist nature of the film.
The on-screen engagement with technology, combined with the visually breathtaking sequences of Zola and Stefani facing their own reflections, which are spontaneously interlaced throughout the film, heightens the story’s divergence from reality. The film weaving in and out of a digital and metaphorical subconscious emphasises the wild and tumultuous story unfolding before our eyes, creating a spellbinding and inescapably chaotic world.
The comedic force that is Zola shatters the standards of comedy. With a bizarre and intriguing story, this film has you laughing in discomfort, with loose ends that haunt its conclusion. The film itself isn’t resolved, but with a comedic venom that stings, this fever dream of a movie is difficult to wake up from.
To prepare for the role of Zola, Taylour Paige, who is a native of Inglewood, Calif., worked at Crazy Girls on Sunset and La Brea as a stripper for a month and actually took her clothes off onstage. Paige said the job proved both beneficial as research and as a source of income.