Review by Sean Boelman
The idea of making a movie out of an absolutely wild Twitter thread sounds like a bad idea on paper, and in execution… well… it’s not that good of one either. Despite an interesting visual style and some wholly committed performances, it is hard to overcome the annoying and sometimes even obnoxious nature of Zola.
The film follows a stripper who goes on a wild road trip to Florida with someone she recently met. However, unlike a lot of road movies, this isn’t as much about the journey as it is about the destination and the crazy things that happen there. But ultimately, those things that happen aren’t all that crazy or even all that interesting.
A majority of the movie is building to a finale that is really anticlimactic. We are waiting to see something insane happen in the last act because of the feeling of discomfort that the first hour is sowing, yet the place where the movie ends is rather unsatisfying. It ultimately shares more in common with a slice-of-life film than a road movie.
The movie absolutely captures the griminess of the underground of the Tampa area quite well, but that doesn’t make it a particularly pleasant place to watch a movie. The commentary that the film has on the sex work industry is very interesting, and the comedy-tinged approach that the movie takes is unique, but it doesn’t amount to a great experience.
It is definitely hard to tread the line between voyeurism and otherism, and the film fails to do so effectively. Although it falls short of objectification, it still feels as if the audience is supposed to feel distant from these characters, and that is not where this movie with these themes should be coming from.
The actors do a good job of capturing the culture which they are obviously hoping to depict, for better or worse. Taylour Paige and Riley Keough can be distractingly annoying at times, but given that this is exactly what they were aiming to do, it works. Colman Domingo and Nicholas Braun are good but underused in the supporting cast.
There is a very distinctive visual style to the film as well, although that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Apparently there can be too much energy in a single product, as is perfectly demonstrated by this film. In its attempts to stand out and be stylish, the film becomes altogether overwhelming, even if it does succeed in catching the viewer’s eye.
Zola is a film with a level of energy and enthusiasm that will appeal to a particular crowd but put off a majority of viewers. It’s the very definition of an acquired taste of a film, and unfortunately, it can be quite hard to swallow if you don’t enjoy what it’s putting down.
Zola hits theaters on June 30.