Two new friends set out on an adventure sharing one similar interest but when that fairy tale turned into a nightmare, it sparked a viral 148-tweet thread about a mission gone south, literally. What happened, whether true or not, would be worthy of a big-screen adaptation because of just how buckwild it was, right? What formed, though, focuses too much on unnecessary elements while just grazing across others. I can’t claim to have read anything beyond the original thread from back in 2015, but the film doesn’t capture enough of the wild ride Zola took us on many years ago. The cast is on point fortunately, and Riley Keough is an unhinged and cringeworthy character that fits the bill from Zola’s perspective. Even Nicholas Braun gets to flex off his act as a hopeless white-trash romantic who can’t help seeing his lover for how crazy she truly is. For 90 minutes you’d expect more given the material, and when Zola seemingly becomes aware that it’s distributed by A24, the scenes of hyper-stylization fill up the runtime with hot air.
Even early on you get the sense that everything to come will be confused on what it is and what it wants to be. Certain dialogue cues a tweet notification and begins the artistic choices that don’t pay the dividends it’s striving for. Colman Domingo, while generally good as always, also works in something that feels integral to the story but then becomes abandoned as the credits start to roll. While the film has its moments, it feels just too messy on a large scale, much like this crazy weekend depicted. Zola is often too caught up in where it came from originally than where this story could have gathered meaning and where it could have ended up. At the bare minimum, there’s a telling moment about working hard for someone else and never getting the cut you deserve, but again, it’s grazed over instead of bringing a resonating truth to the surface.
Zola isn’t without its fun though, thanks to some really great casting. Taylour Paige radiates in a sexy and dominant performance and Riley Kough’s best Bhad Bhabie impression shifts between absorbing and painfully annoying which hit its intended marks. The soundtrack isn’t half bad either, and if you’re a fan of the Trap-a-Velli Tre 2 Chainz era or the hit after hit Y.R.N. mixtape from Migos, then it will take you right into the initially exciting headspace of Zola before things take their turn. Aside from yet another artistic choice when the story shifts that feels neither in service to the plot nor able to generate the laughs it deserves, we do get a pulse pounding scene. Even where it goes from there, Nicholas Braun offers another genuinely great laugh while we take in the aftermath of it. So if there is anything to take away from the film, it’s that some white people are crazy and it’s only amusing when you’re watching from a distance, much like that pyromaniac friend who used an Axe can as a blow torch when you were younger only to find out he also uses it to get high off the fumes. It’s a strange and discomforting feeling being that close to someone unhinged, and Zola gets at least that right.
Alas, the ending serves as another shifting point where it’s clear the thread was best served as the intense and entertaining thrill ride on Twitter. Where the original material should have more than served 90 minutes, here we are shown one too many random dicks, a missing thematic element, too much unnecessary stylization, and at worst, the inability to capture one of the craziest true stories ever told. If you find yourself as lost as the intent to bring this thing to the big-screen after walking out, then you can still bask in the glory of the original thread, thanks to it still being archived online here. Overall, Zola works in some moments but it’s not exactly another A24 hit.