Sundance 2020: Zola

Riley Keough and Taylour Paige appear in Zola by Janicza Bravo, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Anna Kooris.

Zola is a film that manages to bring A’Ziah King’s outrageous viral twitter thread to life in complete cinematic fashion.

Zola (Taylour Paige) works as a waitress in Detroit when she first befriends a customer, Stefani (Riley Keough).  Shortly thereafter, Stefani recruits Zola to join her on a weekend trip to Florida.  Zola says yes to going on this trip, which will prove to be against her better judgement.  The story only gets crazier from here because this weekend involves a pimp and Stefani’s idiot boyfriend, Derrek (Nick Braun).  She’s working with a pimp and brings her boyfriend along?!?  Like in what universe does this even sound close to rational?!?  Don’t answer that.  It’s a rhetorical question.

Zola manages to turn the table on X (Colman Domingo).  By uploading new photos, she manages to charge more than him.  Will it end well?  You’ll just have to wait and see.

While they’re out making money, the idiot boyfriend is living up to the title.  Let’s just say that he gets friendly with people he shouldn’t be talking with.  It’s a film that’s crazy beyond belief!

Janicza Bravo & Jeremy O. Harris’ script goes for comedy more so than thrills.  The film starts out as if it were a female buddy film before really getting into the heavy stuff so to speak.  While the story may have originated on twitter, Bravo directs the film in a way that audiences will be entertained from start to finish.  It’s definitely a film for the social media era.  It’s not a film you would have seen twenty years ago.  I mean, it’s possible but it would be a bigger risk.  The fact that A24 is releasing the film shows that a studio is willing to invest in the story at hand.

This is one of those stories that could only be described as batshit insane.  Zola is a film that is in the same vein as Spring Breakers.  The only thing I knew going into the film was from the information mentioned during the Press Inclusion Reception at Sundance.  I went into the film without having read the Twitter thread or subsequent Reddit posting.  Having some familiarity with the crazy saga certainly will enhance the experience.  That being said, you’ll be fine even if you know nothing at all going into the film.  You must do what you feel is right, of course.

The moral of the story is that you should never befriend strangers in a diner.  Like never.  Don’t even consider the idea no matter how tempting that it might be!  There may be other takeaways from viewing the film but this is certainly the big one!

Batshit insane doesn’t even begin to describe Zola.  I can’t say this enough.

DIRECTOR:  Janicza Bravo
SCREENWRITERS:  Janicza Bravo & Jeremy O. Harris
CAST:  Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nick Braun, Colman Domingo

Zola held its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. A24 will release the film at a later date.  Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.