Zola written and directed by Janicza Bravo (creator of past films like Lemon which starred her husband the fabulous Brett Gelman) proves that the wife in this case may eclipse her spouse. Meaning, Zola is original, memorable and upsetting which are all hallmarks of an important film.
Sex trafficking is an important issue, but not common in film. Set in Tampa, Zola seemed especially apropos since during the last Super Bowl I recall there being a large law enforcement initiative to curtail what usually is a booming business. Sex and sports go hand in hand, with alcohol fueling the feet. (Feel free to quote that gem of mine)
The acting by the two female leads was realism perfected: Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, the former from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the latter from The Devil All the Time with added fun fact; daughter of Lisa Marie Presley. The ‘pimp’ character acted by Colman Domingo was also magnificent, and so well drawn by the writers. Anyone who ever had a parent who changed voices (literally) when angry will have their hair stand on end when Nasir’s character gets his dander up. The naive lemming, Nicholas Braun (Succession) again shows not only the tremendous acting talent, but the terrifically crafted characterization and dialogue.
The cinematography (by Ari Wegner) and camera shots of the sex and dancing was unique, but I especially appreciated the intelligence it takes to create a palpable sense of foreboding without graphic violence, but Janicza nailed it.
As mentioned earlier, Florida is a character in the film as well, at times super seedy (cockroach motels) with the desperation contrast of billboards posting “Jesus Saves” and crucifix symbols. This is like ‘If the Florida Project kids grew up,’ astutely pointed out my movie friend.
Not a comfortable film, but fitting considering the predicament women are forced or willingly put themselves into for the all mighty dollar.