[‘ZOLA’ Review] buzzes with raging-great energy, salty wit and explosive performances

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

ZOLA

Rated R, 86 minutes.
Director: Janicza Bravo
Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo, Jason Mitchell and Ts Madison

Now playing in theaters.

The much-anticipated A24 stripper drama Zola is as delightfully bonkers as the epic 148-tweet thread on which it’s based. Come for the chaotic and uncomfortable glory that happens between perfectly cast stars Taylour Paige and Riley Keough. They gaze penetratingly at each other with figurative knives behind their backs. Then, the wild weekend they share together to make some “schmoney” will wedge into your brain and leave your mouth agape. It’s dirty, funny and thrilling. 

Directed with rawness and raging-great energy by Janicza Bravo (Lemon), Zola tells of a Detroit waitress named Zola (Paige) who finds herself convinced to be a stripper by one of her customers, Stefani (Keough). The two become fast friends and decide to raise hell together by heading down to Florida for a weekend of pole dancing. However, the trip descends into madness as the two are surrounded by Tampa gangsters, a ruthless pimp (a devilishly good Colman Domingo), and other unexpected adventures that are too insane to write in this PG space.

If you’re familiar with A24’s brand of cinema, you know that it’s going to be messed up and memorable. It may not always be the most comfortable viewing (and Zola has a sex montage at that halfway point that’ll insert a grimacing face emoji). However, A24 and the filmmakers they spotlight are daring to go places no one hasn’t before. Whether it’s shaking up the narrative formula, the camera and editing techniques they employ, or the actors they cast, you won’t soon forget it. 

Zola bleeds creativity and storytelling brilliance. How it plays with character perspective will paint your face like the blinking man GIF (especially a scene when it flips from Zola’s recollection of the weekend to Stefani’s). The sound effects and lighting experimentation lean into the film’s rich themes of deceit, attitude and the struggle to survive. It’s a dose of poetic realism for the digital age.

Grade: A-

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.