Review: 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. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

On October 27th 2015, A’Ziah “Zola” King took to her twitter and told an unbelievable story in 148 tweets. The story was based on a falling out she had with her friend Stefani. The 148 tweets covered a two-day rollercoaster that included a cross-country trip, pole dancing, sex work, and some of the craziest characters imaginable.

So, A24 turned the Zola tweet saga into a film.

The premise of the film follows right along with the tweets. Zola (Taylour Paige) is waitressing at a restaurant when she meets Stefani (Riley Keough). They start dancing together and eventually Stefani invites Zola to take a road trip to Florida to dance at a club. Stefani invites her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and a mysterious man (Colman Domingo).

Before Zola realizes it, Stefani has other intentions for the trip. This leaves Zola stuck in a crazy situation with no way out.

Beyond the craziness of the story (you can check out the twitter thread if you don’t mind spoilers), two things stood out. 1). Taylour Paige is a revelation. She’s a star in the making. Most people remember Paige from the TV series Hit the Floor and from last year’s award winning film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Zola is her first starring role and she’s unbelievable from start to finish. There’s a confidence in Paige’s performance that makes Zola such a relatable and lovable character. 

Riley Keough is the perfect Stefani. She’s the right amount of sweet and endearing mixed with a bit of untrustworthiness and deceit.  Keough plays her character with enough sincerity to make it believable that Zola would trust her. 

Anyone that’s seen Colman Domingo give strong performances in HBOs Euphoria or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is in for another treat. His mysterious character is fascinating. It’s layered by Domingo switching accents when he’s angry and they way he disappears and pops up like Candyman whenever he wants. It’s almost mystical the way his character moves around. 

With zero background given on any of the characters and a 90 minute runtime, the fantastic performances are what make Zola so much fun. Each of the four main characters do an incredible job. It’s the kind of film you expect from A24 Films. 

Zola is more than just a twitter thread turned into a film. It’s a smart film that occasionally veers off into the absurd. It’s a film that showcases new stars like Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, and Nicholas Braun. It’s also a reminder that actors like Colman Domingo are a gift.  It’s a 90 minute film reminding everyone that truth is often stranger than fiction. It’s a reminder that having incredible actors a turn simple story into something electric. It’s also a reminder that when someone says, “that should be a movie…maybe it should.

Grade: B+