Zola (CREDIT: A24)

Starring: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nicholas Braun, Ari’el Stachel, Jason Mitchell

Director: Janicza Bravo

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for The Full Array of Language, Nudity, and Violence

Release Date: June 30, 2021 (Theaters)

There’s a lot of balls to Zola, both in the sense of chutzpah and exposed private parts. Check your pulse at the door, this one is not for the faint of heart. It has the verve and vibe of a no-holds-barred good time, but it’s all in the name of pandemonium. The ostensible attraction of this story for moviegoers is that while it’s terrifying for the people it happened to, it’s exhilarating to witness from the comfort and safety of your local multiplex or couch. But by the end, the only thought I was left with was, “I’m glad that didn’t happen to me.” And I suspect that’s exactly the sort of trick that director/co-writer Janicza Bravo was attempting to pull off.

This is definitely a story of something happening to someone, as opposed to that someone taking charge. Aziah “Zola” King (Taylour Paige) would probably like to think of herself as a person who’s in control of her own life, at least as much as anyone can be while getting by in a capitalist society. But when ripped outside your comfort zone, you might suddenly find yourself at the mercy of powerful forces.

Based on a viral tweet thread by the real Zola and a Rolling Stone article inspired by that thread, the movie tracks the quick rise and fall of her friendship with the alluring Stefani (Riley Keough). One day, Zola is Stefani’s waitress; the next, they’re best buds driving hundreds of miles to make it rain at some Florida strip clubs. But what Zola hadn’t bargained for is the annoying presence of Stefani’s hangdog boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun). And what she REALLY hadn’t bargained for was Stefani’s pimp X (Colman Domingo) advertising her adult services without her consent.

Zola presents Stefani as a perpetrator of instant betrayal and someone she never should have trusted with in the first place. One of the most telling moments happens when the movie suddenly switches perspectives, with Stefani offering a much shorter, cleaner, and more unbelievable version of the entire journey. That section might seem to be the closing argument of Stefani as a dangerous siren, but it’s also further evidence to me about how much she is being manipulated by X or anyone else in a position to destroy her whole life. There’s no way out for Stefani, and no indication that she’s even considered the possibility of how to escape. For Zola and the rest of us, it’s a relief that this was just a temporary scrape with the underworld.

Zola is Recommended If You Like: Watching a great time turn into an awful time

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Backpage Ads