What began as a viral Twitter thread has now become one of the most engrossing, outright hilarious thrillers of the year. “Zola” follows a young waitress working at a restaurant where she meets a new friend who convinces her to take an impromptu trip to Florida. An adventure full of sex, drugs and a ton of unexpected fun, “Zola” is unlike any other dramedy before it. The trip started as a quick stripping cash grab, but later spiraled into complete madness.
At a time where social media has become the interface for the world’s greatest forms of communication, it was only a matter of time before a Twitter thread became the stomping ground for innovative screenwriting. In the form of 148 tweets, a story bold in its execution comes to life as an electric tale about trust. The project was originally in James Franco’s hands to adapt and direct; however, the job was later passed on to Janicza Bravo for direction and Jeremy O. Harris for adaptation.
Since a plot like “Zola’s” has so many different storylines—from an abusive pimp to a tyrannical boyfriend—it can be hard to uncover the true nature of the film. The film shines through an exploration of interpersonal relationships between women, specifically between Zola (Taylour Paige) and her newfound friend Stefani (Riley Keough). When the pair first meets in Zola’s restaurant, there is an immediate connection felt by both the audience and the characters themselves. Stefani offers Zola something no one has had in a very long time, a completely new experience. As many red flags as there might be, Stefani’s presence and proposal are too alluring to pass up.
Zola begins the trip safely dancing at a club for money as promised. Then things suddenly take a turn for the worst once she meets Stefani’s pimp, who plans on prostituting the two ladies for profit. This is where the comedy mixes perfectly with the horrific tones of the film, resulting in a dark yet amusing performance by Taylour Paige as Zola. Paige’s subtle behavioral gestures convey a lifetime of emotion most actors cannot pull off with entire physical movements. Her portrayal of Zola is what sells the script’s adaptation from Twitter thread to film.
The film’s only flaw lies within the framework set up by the plot and aiding scenes. At many points in the movie, deeper messages and connections were established but never explored, leaving large gaps of grey areas where storylines could have been fulfilled. For example, in one scene, the film depicts a helpless black man being arrested, but fails to forge a connection to the larger racial disparities within modern America and its criminal justice system. Instead, the idea was left completely unused and cut off.
There is another area in the film where sex trafficking is referred to yet never fully realized as a dramatic element brought to light for awareness and real-life apprehension. This causes the film’s subtle references to real-life affairs to fall below the major plot’s radar, resulting in several different tangents with no organized resolution.
One could argue that a 148 character Twitter thread could not possibly venture that deep into socio-political agendas. That problem is rather bypassed by the superb acting and writing of the cast, reverting viewers’ attention to the performance, rather than the depth and complexity of each scene. It is through this high pace of action and storytelling that “Zola” triumphs from Twitter feed to the cinema.
“Zola” is now showing in theaters.