“Zola” is directed by Janicza Bravo (Lemon, Gregory Go Boom) and stars Taylour Paige (Boogie, Hit the Floor), Riley Keough (The Lodge, The Devil All the Time), Nicholas Braun (Prom, How to Be Single), Ari’el Stachel (Blue Bloods, The Band’s Visit), and Colman Domingo (Fear the Walking Dead, Euphoria). This film is based on a story summed up in 148 tweets on a single account. These tweets were the foundation for where they ended up taking this film, which is about a girl who goes down to Florida with a stripper named Stefani only to find herself in a prostitution scheme with Stefani’s pimp, X.
I have a soft spot for A24. It is a studio that has made some of my favorite films of the 2010s including “Room,” “The Disaster Artist,” and “Lady Bird.” In a world of big, gigantic blockbusters, many of which I enjoy like those of the “Star Wars” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises, sometimes I need something simpler, something lower in budget and scale. Something more intimate. A24 usually hits the spot because they have a tendency to align themselves with talent that can tell a great story with a limited budget. Portions of “Zola” seem to reflect this lower budget. Certain shots go on for such a long time, there are shots that look like they fit more in a YouTube vlog compared to a typical movie. That previous statement by the way, is also one of my big critiques because despite this movie having some good framing here and there, the shot selection occasionally feels repetitive or, as I said, vlog-like. Looking like a vlog is not always a bad thing, but it sort of almost pulled me out of the movie. It lacked a slight sense of immersion if you will.
At the same time though, the movie has a number of shots that are beautifully lit. This movie gave me a fine first impression with the opening five minutes for providing one of the most vibrant scenes of the year. Technically speaking, this movie is a mixed bag. Unfortunately, it may be the best part of the movie because I progressed through “Zola” rolling my eyes, placing my hands over my head, and the desire to put a gun in my mouth. “Zola” is probably my least favorite movie of 2021. Yes, I know some would argue it is a 2020 film, but it just had a big release this year, so I’m counting it as a 2021 film. Either way, this movie has an intriguing first five minutes, but as for the rest of the hour and a half, the wheels fall off the wagon and it comes tumbling toward a cliff.
This film starts off with some catchy and magical music then tops off its candylicious intro off with some of the best lighting I have seen this year. Like many other A24 films, this one definitely has its quirks. These were some solid quirks, but examples of quirks I could give later in the runtime just get worse. Admittedly, there is this quirk that annoyed me, I don’t know if the rest of humanity would feel the same way, every time I would hear a notification noise during the movie, part of my brain wanted to check out. I know this is based off tweets, but come on!
One thing that kind of, and I repeat, KIND OF, holds this movie together is the acting. The chemistry between Zola and Stefani is not my favorite of the year, but the respective actors that play these characters, Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, are decently put together. Certain scenes made them feel like a natural pair for the story that was being told. I do want to give a shoutout to the supporting cast too. At the same time however, they honestly felt like they were occasionally overacting. This film is based on a tweetstorm and I feel like it occasionally gets overhyped for the sake of having a “big screen experience,” which is weird to say about something that is a small, independent picture. Actors like Nicholas Braun were sometimes a delight to watch and made me feel like I was not actually wasting my time. Seeing him and others made the movie feel like it was jacked up on caffeine, but it did not make for an excellent product in the end because I left feeling unsatisfied and having placed my hand on my head way too many times.
Also, I don’t know the actual story, and for all I know, some of the tweetstorm from Zola may have been fabricated, but I want to bring up Stefani’s voice. Throughout the movie, Stefani talks in this weirdly southern accent, and I don’t know why, but by the end of the movie, it felt like that voice transported me through a cheese grater. It was so annoying! I watched an interview of Riley Keough on “The Tonight Show,” so I know that her voice in “Zola” is not her actual voice. But her voice in the movie t feels over the top and similar to something out of a C-grade “Power Rangers” villain.
Honestly, what makes this movie even worse is that it has not even been a full week since I have seen “Zola” and I feel as if I have forgotten a majority of it. Thankfully, I remember some things about the movie. Both good and bad as evidenced by this review. But if I go through this review nearly blanking what to talk about and I have not even gone through a full week without seeing the movie, that’s a problem. I went through THREE weeks trying to get a review out for “Tom & Jerry” and that film was awful! I knew what to talk about in that review! “Zola” is one heck of a story, but as a movie, I just wish it stayed in my brain for just a bit longer. Is it funny? Occasionally. Is it sexy? Kinda. Is it quirky? DID YOU SEE THE A24 LOGO?! But if anything, this did not add up to ride that was compelling. It added up to something that feels sliced and diced and nearly discombobulated despite looking somewhat polished.
In the end, “Zola” is not only my worst movie of the year so far, but as of right now, it is probably also my least favorite film from A24. “Midsommar,” you’re saved. To say a film is bad is hard enough. To say a film from A24 is bad, that’s another level. Because A24 is one of my favorite studios working today. I’ve already gone on about how amazing some of their films have been over the past few years. “Zola” on the other hand, not only felt like a waste of time, but oddly forgettable too. At least I still remember why I was absolutely turned off by “Midsommar.” I still recall its ugliness to this day. Plus with “Midsommar,” you could make the argument that the film was supposed to give me the reaction that I ultimately gave it. I was supposed to be turned off by that film. With “Zola,” I was supposed to be thrilled, turned on, and maybe jumping out of my seat from time to time. The movie did not do its job and I wasted 90 minutes of my life. I’m going to give “Zola” a 2/10.
“Zola” is now playing in theaters wherever they are open. Tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! This week is a big one for movies because we are continuing summer blockbuster season with arguably the strongest competitor of the bunch, Marvel Studios’s first film in two years, “Black Widow!” I’ve already got my tickets for Thursday and I cannot wait to share my thoughts on the movie with you.
Also coming this Thursday, stay tuned for my review of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” in the ongoing review series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account and like the Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Zola?” What did you think about it? Or, what are your favorite AND least favorite films from A24? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!