In 2015, Aziah Wells (nicknamed Zola) posted a Twitter thread of 148 tweets detailing her road trip to Florida gone wrong. What was originally supposed to be a trip to make some extra cash by dancing at busy clubs turned into a high-stakes weekend filled with dangerous scenarios.
Zola met Jessica (whose name was changed to Stefani in the film) at Hooters while waitressing. After a quick exchange of dancing stories, the two become fast friends. Zola decided that their friendship was strong enough to take a road trip to Florida with Stefani, Stefani’s roommate and Stefani’s boyfriend. Things go south when Stefani reveals that her roommate, Z, “takes care of her,” which means he is her pimp, Zola explains. After that, the trip is filled with a sex work scheme, a temperamental pimp and lots of money.
Taylour Paige, who stars as Zola, shines in her role. Paige communicates her feelings with just a look, and it’s easy for viewers to tell when she’s thinking about how messed up her situation is. She’s sassy, beautiful and the perfect star for this modern drama.
Paige’s dancing is phenomenal as well. She came into this film with plenty of dancing experience from the film “Hit the Floor” and worked at Crazy Girls, an adult entertainment club in Hollywood, for four weeks to prepare for “Zola.”“I got close with a couple of strippers and eventually told them what I was up to,” Paige said in an interview with Variety. “But I kept it pretty lowkey.”
Paige also reached out to the real Zola, who she said was rooting for her to get the role.
In “Zola”, Riley Keough (Stefani) is the human embodiment of messy. She fully commits to her character’s flaws while still stealing sympathy from viewers in her darkest scenes. Stefani is complex, and Keough tried to recognize that, while still seeing her demonic side.
“She’s a villain, but all villains have their fair share of trauma and hardship,” Keough said in an interview with Vanity Fair.
The film does an excellent job keeping the gossipy and comedic energy of the original Twitter thread that inspired the film, even in its tensest moments. Aziah Wells has been praised for her storytelling throughout the internet, and “Zola’s” scriptwriters Janicza Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris have, as well. Harris translated her tweets into a script flawlessly. Bravo and Harris even directly quote the thread on occasion, which viewers can distinguish from the rest of the dialogue due to the addition of a Tweet notification noise.
Bravo, who is the director as well, captures the dreaminess of the story, the seduction of an instant friendship and the feeling of being overwhelmingly online in her film. Mica Levi’s score includes harp music used in the dancing scenes, as well as the scene when Zola and Stefani first meet. The music describes the divine feeling of feminine friendship and dancing. Even though things are messy from the get-go, viewers understand Zola’s rose colored glasses through the soundtrack.
The film is also filled with beeps, buzzes and notifications, reminding viewers that “Zola” occurs in an age where almost everything is streamed. Modern day period pieces are hard to pull off because of the presence of the internet. It’s everywhere, but it’s invisible at the same time. “Zola” captures this through references to the now obsolete social media network Vine and a Migos montage during the driving part of the trip.
“Zola”’s ending differs from the ending in Wells’ original thread. It’s unclear why Bravo decided to leave the story open-ended, but the film would have benefited from a more concrete ending. The final shot was cinematic, but the inconclusiveness of “Zola” doesn’t do Wells’ thread justice.
Usually, a Twitter thread to film adaptation would be a red flag when walking into a movie. “Zola” is one of the only exceptions to this. Every step in this thread-to-film process is methodical, well written and direct. Wells’ words translate wonderfully onto the screen, and Paige and Keough fill their character’s big personalities with ease. “Zola” is worth a watch, no matter what kind of movies you’re usually into.