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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz


See It Or Skip It: See It

You'll Get What You Went For

There's nothing wrong with being impulsive but there's a very thin line that exists between being impulsive and being reckless. Janicza Bravo’s @Zola hysterically and authentically paints over this line with colors so bright, it's as though impulsiveness and recklessness are the suns and the moon.

@Zola follows the title character played by Taylour Paige whose performance I can only describe as a star having been born. @Zola is a waitress and part-time stripper in Detroit who is befriended by one of her restaurant customers Stefani (Riley Keough). The two bond over their mutual love and talent for pole dancing and Stefani invites Zola to dance with her at a club later that night.

The two forms what to @Zola is a new friendship by the end of the night and Stefani invites @Zola to join her on a road trip to Florida where she says they can make great money by dancing in clubs. @Zola agrees and is picked up the next morning to leave with Stefani, her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun), and Stefani’s peculiar roommate known solely as X (Euphoria’s Colman Domingo).

Needless to say, the weekend is an absolute disaster for everyone involved and this is where it's important to note that @Zola is based on a viral Twitter thread taken by the real @Zola who kept her followers up to date on all that went down for the entire weekend. The real Stefani (Jessica) has a completely different version of how events went down but it doesn't take a heart surgeon to know at the top of your head that @Zola is the one telling the truth. @Zola has absolutely no reason to lie whereas “Stefani” does. She's engaging in illegal activities and has left her young child with her family to take off and do it.

It was impulsive of @Zola to take off with Stefani so soon after meeting Stefani. She is reckless. Riley Keough is an actor who I've reviewed a few times before and this is by far her best performance to date. She absolutely transforms like a butterfly into this hilarious but toxic character who's literally like a bunch of rats feasting on a corpse of immaturity. She's like a bride days away from her wedding to a man she KNOWS she'll end up divorcing. “Things are really strained between us but we've already spent so much money on this wedding, why cancel it now?”

She speaks with an extremely over-the-top white-trash voice which would be fine if not for the outrageously ignorant things that she says. She puts on the victim mentality waterworks for @Zola when it's necessary but @Zola is smart enough to see through her. X refuses to let @Zola leave until the weekend is over and @Zola's just trying to get through it. I didn't think going into this movie that it was going to be so much about race as it was. It's not defined by it but there are elements that speak so loudly to a certain kind of culture that just exists like a heavy rock next to a cliff. As @Zola goes on, you start to notice its presence but @Zola's can't push that rock off the cliff.

I read what @Zola was about when it premiered at Sundance and I suspected @Zola would be a stereotype of the innocent black bystander who is burdened with having to babysit the immature white girl and this is one of those films whereas a critic, it feels great to have been so wrong. One thing that the film gets so right about @Zola is her brain. She has this intelligence and resourcefulness that is so empowering to watch and you see her hold on to it when she's treated poorly.

All of this could not have been captured on camera without Taylour Paige. Casting is a form of playing dress-up. It's fun to imagine different actors in different roles but at the end of the day, the actor that's cast is almost always the right choice. Paige’s performance was flawless and she and Keough do not live off of each other. They are both their own independent characters and the film speaks louder for it.

Colman Domingo’s performance is like a seductive Cheshire Cat. He has that sexy but frightening grin that confirms you've fallen down the rabbit hole. X is really Stefani’s pimp and it's especially in his scenes with her that you see the real Stefani come out and she's not at all different from who you see her as for the rest of the film.

She chooses to partake with X not because she feels trapped but because she enjoys the attention and being taken care of. She has that childish persona that says “I'm not going to take responsibility for my actions because it's not fun”. The way she unsuccessfully attempts to manipulate @Zola is so telling to toxic interactions in 2021. She is literally the signature on the document for white entitlement. She's a replica of the late 2000s Disney channel star brat with wide eyes and too much makeup which is the vibe Keough was clearly aiming for.

@Zola is a drama with comedic elements but the overall tone works so brilliantly because it's not trying to depict itself as anything in particular. It simply exists. I learned a lot from the film that's not always pleasant to learn but my cheeks were nearly pink from all my laughter. Safe to say, @Zola's definitely worth your time and unlike the real @Zola, you'll get what you went for.

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