A few weeks ago, we discussed the past decade’s best movies on Adventures in Movies! During the course of the discussion we discussed A24’s strong horror resume and their mediocre output with everything else. Titles such as The Lighthouse and Short Term 12 were mentioned. Both sides made good points, but the talk ended unresolved.
Zola is the latest release from A24. It is based on the real tweets of Aziah Wells. Over the course of one weekend, Zola sent out 144 tweets about her misadventures on a road trip. It was an incredible tale that enthralled the internet and some celebrities. The story went viral and the movie based on the ordeal is one Sundance’s buzziest. But is it good?
The movie is based on a (mostly) true story. This is not the big selling point as Hollywood loves movies based in reality. What makes Zola different from similar stories is it is a product entirely of social media. As technology has improved, social media has become more important. It was only a matter of time before a movie was based entirely on a Twitter feed.
Zola does a great job of capturing the importance of the Internet. Almost every major action of the film is based around smartphones. Friendships are made and broken, lots of money is made, and getting likes is the basis for everything. Much like the real world, what happens on social media is the end all and be all. The characters are almost incapable of dealing with reality.
The reliance on technology carries over into the filmmaking. Some statements during the film are followed by the all too familiar notification beep. Instead of traditional title cards to denote time, the screen will show the time and day at top, taking on the look of an iPhone. Some of the shots even look like something found on Instagram. One of the best parts of the movie are when Zola and her boyfriend are texting each other. All the while the audience can hear them thinking over each other. Director Janicza Bravo does a wonderful job of giving her movie a certain feel.
One of the strengths of Zola are the incredible performances. Riley Keough is amazing as Zola’s sex worker friend. She stands out in all of her scenes and brings genuine life to the story. Colman Domingo is downright frightening as Riley’s friend. Nicolas Braun is pitiful comic relief. The movie is not just limited to its style. The small cast all do a superb job.
Taylour Paige plays the titular Tweeter with a refreshing natural quality. More importantly, her reactions and expressions are current. They are a mix of bemusement and irritation mixed with occasional outbursts of emotion. Zola comes off as an avatar for the generation. She portrays herself as very sexy but refuses to be oversexualized. She alternates between indifference and overpowering reactions much like someone with a short attentions span would do.
Zola’s strengths are the same things that will turn away some members of the audience. While the vernacular Zola and Stefani use will not be unfamiliar to anyone who has ever spent more than two minutes with someone in their teenage years, it does become grating. It is not so much what they say, but how much they say it. Yes, it is common for females to refer to each other as “b---h”. This is not even something unique to current times. The issue is the movie takes it to ridiculous levels that are only bearable due to the performances.
Worse is the all over the place pacing of the film. If Zola is as much social commentary as it is a retelling of true events, it would only make sense to match today’s content is king culture. As important as it is to appeal to a mass audience (sex, Instagram videos, violence), it is just as important to deliver as much as possible.
Unfortunately, the commentary gets lost in the pacing. There movie does a great job of having a steady plot, but along the way it goes all over the place. This includes an alternate telling in the middle that goes nowhere and a simultaneously loud and emotionless ending. People will keep watching, but the impact tends to be stuck in the moment.
Zola is the perfect movie for this generation. It is fast paced, overflowing with emotion while also being uncaring, and examines social media better than any movie before it. It is also for a specific age group. While the plot is consistent, the actual story is paper thin. The plot meanders touching on police brutality to gender roles without ever doing anything meaningful. Just another way it is like this generation.