I remember when Zola’s tweets dropped and spent two hours reading the whole story. Zolar Moon tells an extremely noir-ish tale that is filled with drama, comedy, and suspense. At first, the film was attached to James Franco and A24 as he won the bid to adapt it, but thank GOD it ended up in director Janicza Bravo’s hands, who is a better fit to tell this type of story, and knew who to cast. If you want to know how Zola and that bitch fell out, the entire tweet saga is long but full of suspense. I recommend reading the tweet thread before seeing the film or reading any reviews.
When we first see Zola, she’s working at Hooters. While on the clock, she has a chance encounter with a restaurant patron Stefani and it’s love at first hustle. The two exchange numbers and go their separate ways. After their meeting, Stefani calls Zola to ask if she wants to go to Florida to make thousands from stripping. The two haven’t known each other for more than 48 hours, but they get on the road with her “friend” X (Colman Domingo) and Stefani’s boyfriend, and Derrick (Nicholas Braun). When she gets to Florida all hell breaks loose as Zola discovers that most of what Stefani told her was a lie, and now she’s at the mercy of a liar, a pimp (X), and a clown (Derrick), who she doesn’t know. Whew, chile, the mess.
There is so much to like about Zola. Bravo adds a whimsical, almost Disney-like quality that often feels surreal. As a director she took big risks playing with dreamlike imagery, giving it a fantastical edge. It’s a unique way to film material that’s so grounded in reality. This is evident in the scene where Stefani and Zola meet for the first time. As they stand face to face, looking as though they are about to kiss, you know there is a spark between these two strangers. This moment is enhanced by Bravo’s artistic choices using light and sound to create the only queer moment that exists within the film. This couldn’t have been possible without the strong performances of the lead actresses who carry the film.
Taylour Paige embodies the story’s spirit as a woman who has no idea what she’s getting into. These are big shoes to fill, but the actress understands the assignment and delivers. Paige is funny, charismatic and you root for her, hoping her character makes it out of this crazy situation alive. There is no one else I can think of who could deliver a performance as fresh and relatable.
Riley Keough is truly doing some of the best work of her career as Stefani, the culture vulture caricature who has no idea what she’s doing as she lies her way through this trip. I don’t know if she was watching youtube how-to’s– but she has all the quirks, timing, and movements perfected to make this performance as believable as possible.
There are a few things that left me baffled, though. First, I don’t get the ending. Zolar Moon ends the story with her arriving back to her boyfriend telling him, “None of us are the same.” She was so happy to be back and it’s a hilarious, lighthearted way to end the story to let us know there is no more to the story. But what the film does feels like a cop out, as it doesn’t come to a hard conclusion because it’s left open-ended. Don’t see why that’s necessary unless that’s being used as a backdoor to a sequel.
Another thing I don’t understand is in the third act, there is a disturbing scene between Zola and local gangster Dion (Jason Mitchell) where she is sexually assaulted. This incident wasn’t in her initial tweets, so did this happen to her? Or was it an embellishment on behalf of Bravo and O’Harris. It’s an event that doesn’t add anything to the story anyway.
Well folks, assuming you’ve read Zola’s tweets, what can we learn from her misadventures? One, don’t go on trips with people you don’t know. I’m sure Zola would have stayed home if she knew she was traveling with a liar, a pimp, and one of the biggest jackasses on the planet. Second, lying will just put others in danger. Zola was in the dark about things happening around her because no one told her the truth about anything. The poor woman just wanted to strip, make some money, and make new friends. Instead she now has a lifetime of bad memories, but, at least she has a highly anticipated film to commemorate those memories. Thank you Zola for sharing your story because it is a fucking ride!
A24 will release Zola only in theaters on June 30.