Monday, January 27, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Zola

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Directed by Janicza Bravo
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Social media has become so prominent that many young people spend most of each day with their phones in their hands, paying attention to nothing happening in the outside world. This trend has led to a wave of films that seek to portray the experience of social media on a cinematic scale, taking tweets, abbreviations, and chimes and presenting them as if they were actually occurring in the real world. Such efforts are usually interesting but often just as irritating, since no sane person would want to do away with legitimate human contact so that life could be lived more efficiently in under 140 characters.

Zola (Taylour Paige) meets Stefani (Riley Keough) while waitressing and is immediately drawn to her. When they discover their shared talent and love for pole dancing, Stefani invites Zola on a road trip to Florida so that they can earn some extra money. Accompanied by Stefani’s hapless boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) and her mysterious roommate (Colman Dolmingo), they set out on a misadventure that quickly spirals out of control, trapping Zola in an inescapable nightmare with no seeming end.

This film is based on a real-life series of 144 tweets sent by A’ziah King in 2015 that attracted a tremendous amount of attention at the time. The fallout between Zola and Stefani is introduced comically as a framing device, choosing moments in which Stefani and other negative influences in Zola’s life are at their most unattractive to freeze the frame. Love symbols and notification sounds are presented inconsistently, in pursuit of a digitized story that never materializes. What results, instead, is excess. This film is so interested in making this story as fantastical as it apparently was, at least in tweeted form, that it lets its characters and its filmmaking style run wild in a way that feels highly unfocused, similar in attention span to those who can’t take their eyes off their screens.

Paige is a relative newcomer who is capable of giving attitude when she’s riled up, but she’s the calm one compared to Keough, from “American Honey” and “The Girlfriend Experience,” who hams up everything about Stefani to make her such a caricature that she couldn’t possibly exist. This film is a far-gone version of “Hustlers” that’s far less tolerable, more disturbing, and ultimately pointless. If the aim is to give credence and legitimacy to everything posted on social media, this film may achieve that. But as a film, it’s an unbearable exercise in oversaturation.


No comments: