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  Zola The Nasty Girl
Year: 2021
Director: Janicza Bravo
Stars: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nicholas Braun, Ari'el Stachel, Jason Mitchell, Nelcie Souffrant, Nasir Rahim, Ts Madison, Andrew Romano, Sophie Hall, Angelo Diaz, Rico Paris, Ben Bladon, Tony Demil, Ernest Emmanuel Peeples, Joseph Sanders
Genre: Comedy, Drama, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Do you want to hear about how Zola (Taylour Paige) fell out with Stefani (Riley Keough)? She can tell you herself, via a hundred-plus Tweet Twitter thread, but you may have trouble believing it. They met when she was working as a diner waitress in Los Angeles and Stefani was one of her customers who made a point of complimenting her breasts one day. She was in a booth with an older gentleman (Colman Domingo) who did not say very much, but Stefani said plenty and quickly persuaded Zola to hang out with her, and before she knew what was happening she was making some nice extra cash pole dancing...

But that's not why they fell out, though about twenty minutes into this you will have more than an idea of what was up. This really was based on a Twitter thread, but rather than a volley of shots from the culture wars it was a goofy yarn you could take or leave as to its accuracy, though given everyone in the story was not exactly trustworthy and Zola could have been painting herself in a more positive light than necessary, leaving it was all too possible. Director Janicza Bravo had set it up as a commentary on social media, but more as a way of presenting a personality to the world than a place for heated discussion and insult-throwing.

Though there was certainly a crossover, and even if you had not read the original material you would acknowledge the language of the medium, where the addiction to the increasing attention the writer was getting spurred them on to fresh heights of lunacy. It was not so much the act of uploading video clips of yourself doing outrageous things that was in play here, it was an act of storytelling where you could spin a version of yourself that was flattering and placed you in a position of being able to tease an audience who were encouraging you to post more, as once you had them hooked the adrenaline rush of attention was highly moreish.

What was Zola's tale about, then? Claiming to an extent some innocence of what she was getting into, when Stefani invited her over to Florida for a pole dancing session that was guaranteed easy money, she thought it would be fun and profitable. But in the car, the mysterious older guy is gradually revealed to have more control over Stefani than she admits, and a new character, her boyfriend, is well and truly under her thumb and appears to have been brought along as a general dogsbody. Once they reach Tampa, the club where they perform seems a bit off, Zola wants to strip nude but has to wear token bits and pieces so she has a tiny amount still on, which she regards as sketchy. Yet some may be wondering how she knows this.

Is any pole dancer this innocent? Maybe when they start out, but they must have a low level idea of how they are being exploited and how they are exploiting, and Bravo designed the production where we were hyper-aware of Zola and Stefani's bodies, just as they surely were themselves. This corporeal vividness could have been exciting in other hands, yet here was strangely uncomfortable, and once we saw where Zola was headed we realised why. Although nothing injurious happens to her, she is humiliated and that thread of hers could be regarded as a way of getting her own back and re-establishing her ego: there is a short sequence where we are offered a rebuttal from Stefani's viewpoint, but if anything this is even less reliable than Zola's account. Although it seemed straightforward from a narrative point of view, no matter the twists and turns, there was a lot unsettling about it, as if it was a facade about to crack at any moment. Acting was fine throughout, with Paige and Domingo excelling, though by this time Keough was growing a little too fond of her trashy roles. A sobering snapshot, nonetheless. Beneficial music by Mica Levi.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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