claira curtis’s review published on Letterboxd:
“I fuck with Jesus!”
I still vividly remember the moment I stumbled across A’Ziah King’s tweets while I sat in my 2015 college dorm room. Everything I wanted from the most viral thread of the 2010s and more. The pinnacle of movies featuring dancing as a central theme. The glitz and glamour of money, gorgeous outfits, and a sense of power hiding behind it the dark, violent underbelly of women’s bodies being exploited for financial gain. There are moments so tense that they illicit the same wave of anxiety as a Safdie film. Zola captured my heart early, almost immediately, and if it were to ask me “whose is that?”, a well-manicured finger pointing right at my heart, now that I’ve stepped out of my viewing, I’d say with full genuineness “yours!”.
Every performance is a deliciously layered one. Nicholas Braun plays our unstable himbo. Colman Domingo is bursting with quiet fury. Riley Keough maneuvers through manipulation masked behind cheerful femininity. And Taylour Paige. Good lord, Taylour Paige!! Every moment of the film, my eyes were drawn to her as she gives one of my favorite performances of the year. Trust and excitement ebbing away to collected frustration and determination. Paige does it all and then some. I couldn’t look away from her.
The visual aesthetic created here is another point of great note. The combination of Ari Wegner’s cinematography with Janicza Bravo’s direction means we’re left with what I can’t help but call “grimy eye candy”. No matter how tense or disturbing the scenes get, they always look dazzlingly good. I definitely find the film to be an exceptional example of how beautiful film and certain subject matter can look when created through the female gaze. It speaks volumes that we see a montage of male nudity and yet not a second of female nudity. Refreshing and a relief. Thank the universe James Franco didn’t direct this.
I can’t wait to watch Zola again and again. It might be a story that’s kinda long, but it sure is full of suspense!