Zola is a 2021 feature film written and directed by Janicza Bravo.
A film that tells a solid self-contained story but can’t quite decide on how experimental it wants to get, Zola provides some genuinely inspired moments that is only brought down by a lack of focus on what it wants to be.
Hands down Riley Keough completely steals the show as Stefani in this film. Her over the top and at times grating demeanor carry some of the strongest points of the film. Her initial chemistry with the titular Zola as portrayed by Taylour Paige makes for a very engaging first act.
The film as a whole is at its best when it is experimenting. For instance, the brief glimpse of Stefani’s character trying to tell bits of the story from her perspective, or the car singalong as the group embarks on their trip. It is moments like these that pay homage to the internet roots of the films overall narrative.
Where things begin to fall apart though has to be in how inconsistent everything feels. Starting with the visuals which go from outstanding to muddy in a moment’s notice. One scene in particular at the motel room with Derrek’s shakedown it almost looked like the entire camera system was different for that day’s filming. It just looked really rough.
As mentioned before, how the narrative is told is also inconsistent. Going from moments of experimental narrative to simplistic longer takes. It can often feel jarring in the way things are interchanged.
That is to say that by no means is this a bad film. It is a lot of fun and certainly is a wild ride. Where we end up in the last beats of the movie are again a little less than satisfactory but taking a page from life, sometimes a story just ends.
Zola is divisive for sure. It is certainly not A24’s best film, but it takes some chances on how it wants to tell its story which is always great to see. It is definitely a niche film, but it applauds rather than panders to this insanely social media focused world we live in.
- Daniel Hess