Zola Review: Taylour Paige And Riley Keough's Movie Is Based On A Weird Disturbing Psycho-Traumatic Road Trip

The main problem with Zola is it stoops to conquer our attention. But once it gets to the bottom-most peg of the hell hole of life in the underbelly, it crawls around right there, not willing to come out of the abyss. Or maybe it just doesn’t know any other way.

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Zola Review: Taylour Paige And Riley Keough's Movie Is Based On A Weird Disturbing Psycho-Traumatic Road Trip
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In 2015, a part-time stripper full-time waitress named Zola put out a serpentine string of tweets about her bizarre adventures on the road with a fellow-stripper. These tweets went viral and some wiseguy decided it should be made into a film.

So here we are, to partake in Zola’s adventures in sex sleaze and violence co-partnered by Stefani (Riley Keough) who struck me as a wee daft as though she had been taking cheap unauthorized drugs for too long. If you ask me, Zola looks too sensible to take off with a girl as unanchored and spaced-out as Stefani. But after some feeble hardly-know-you protests Zola is bundled into a car with Stefani and her associates, one of whom ,mysteriously named X (Colman Domingo) turns out to be a pimp.

Thus begins Zola’s nightmare. And ours.


From the moment the road trip begins, we are subjected to Zola’s misadventures in graphic detail. So the question again: why does Zola ignore her better judgment and take off for a ride as bumpy as a floating Titanic? Strapped for cash? Desperate for excitement? Longing for that self-fulfilment which eludes most of the working-class?

Maybe the answer lies in all these options. Director Janicza Bravo uses the Rolling Stone article "Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted" by David Kushner like a blueprint for a pseudo-documentary on what really happened to Zola on her trip with Stefani. I mean REALLY happened. There is no attempt to humanise Zola’s adventures.

Whether it is a lack of sensitivity or just the urge to tell the story as authentically as possible, the director follows the path of minimum ostentation, letting the camera in on Zola and Stafeni’s lurid experiences on the road peering right into their private world, not allowing Zola to stand back and judge Stefani. On the contrary, Zola is an accomplice, maximising Stefani’s earnings as Stefani cohabits with strangers who offer money for value.


Sadly, the film offers no value for money. Its style of storytelling is hip and hectic, allowing no quiet pauses to reflect on the downspiralling of Zola’s life, albeit for just a few hours.

While Taylour Paige’s Zola is a thoughtful portrayal even when she surrenders to sleaze, Riley Keough as Stefani is an irredeemable mess you don’t want to be associated with. Not in this life. Not in the next. This is the main problem with Zola. It stoops to conquer our attention. But once it gets to the bottom-most peg of the hell hole of life in the underbelly, it crawls around right there, not willing to come out of the abyss. Or maybe it just doesn’t know any other way.   





Image source: Youtube/A24, Instagram/taylour/rileykeough