There’s fun at the screening and then there’s Zola fun at a screening. Based on a series of tweets from 2015, the Janicza Brazo comedy opens with the line “you wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” I mean, it’s not really that full of suspense, and it certainly doesn’t feel long as it’s zips by with pure enjoyment. Of course, a different attention span is needed to watch a movie than to read a series of 144 tweets.
Now, when Trump sends out 144 tweets in one day it’s a national emergency (also known as Sunday) but when Zola does it, she’s guiding us through the worst weekend of her life. After making an insta-friends at her diner with Stefani (aka ‘This Bitch’), she heads off on a road trip to dance in some Florida strip clubs not knowing what her new friend planned. Without getting it into the specifics of it — because a big portion of the fun of this film is Zola’s voice in guiding us down this narrative rabbit hole — it soon becomes very clear that what Stefani has planned has very little to do with what Zola has expected.
Starring Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, the film lets you into a secret world that most of us don’t have access to. In fact, a good portion of the film might be in a foreign language, we are even given subtitles to explain some of the more out there phraseology. By giving Zola control of the narrative, the screenwriter has done us a service. We know who we are cheering for, and we know she gets out okay (because she managed to tweet about it). That doesn’t make any of the scenes any less tense but it does allow us to really enjoy the comedy and the absurdity of what we are witnessing. Both stars deliver fantastic performances and the film seems to be a perfect pick up for A24 and might make new cult heroes like James Franco’s turn in Spring Breakers. I don’t know if this is the first ever script to be fashioned out of a tweetstorm, but it does prove that stories have found new places to exist and aspiring filmmakers have figured out where to find them.
As this is one of the last films I attended at Sundance, I couldn’t help but compare it to the other films which seem to exist purely because of social media, especially Spree or even the documentary Feels Good Man. In an age when cinema struggles against second screen experiences to keep our intention, it’s fun to see Sundance draw something substantial from those sources. Because this is an A24 film I have to assume that their goal for it is theatrical release, and that may just work. A few years ago Neon paid big money for Ingrid Goes West, a similar film that many people considered to be a financial failure. However, Zola has two things going for it, it’s a comedy and it’s based on a true story. Does this beat out Aubrey Plaza and a host of other stars? We’ll see. In the meantime, try to keep your Twitter searches from ruining the plot turns.