News

Zola First Reviews: A Laugh-Out-Loud Hybrid of Spring Breakers and Hustlers

Critics say director Janicza Bravo's sophomore effort showcases her immense talent and benefits from outstanding work by stars Riley Keough and Taylour Paige.

by | January 25, 2020 | Comments

Anna Kooris courtesy of Sundance Institute

(Photo by Anna Kooris courtesy of Sundance Institute)

One of the most anticipated movies of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, partly because it’s the sophomore effort from Lemon director Janicza Bravo, but mostly because it’s based on a Twitter thread that went viral, Zola seems to live up to expectations as a clever adaptation filled with exceptional performances. The first reviews following the premiere are mostly positive, celebrating the appropriately disjointed and fleeting entertainment of this road trip comedy involving a stripper, a sex worker, her boyfriend, and her pimp through the wilds of Florida.

Here’s what critics are saying about Zola:


Does the movie feel like a Tweet adaptation?

[It’s] as laugh-out-loud funny and nail-bitingly wild as Wells’ original Twitter thread.
– Angie Han, Mashable

The script retains the humor of the original thread, again framing an increasingly dark story with a light touch.
– Benjamin Lee, Guardian

One of the greatest pleasures of the original series of tweets, which is preserved here, is the inherently humanist observation that everybody is a messy, dramatic bitch in their own way.
– Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

Zola often unfolds at the fragmented clip of the feed that inspired it. That sometimes means that it struggles to fit into the constraints of a linear story.
– Eric Kohn, IndieWire

As Twitter is to great literature, Zola is to the cinematic masterpieces that have come before: It’s superficial and relatively thin on substance.
– Peter Debruge, Variety


Does it ever go deeper than that?

Zola is a fascinating status update for our time.
David Bax, Battleship Pretension

Zola is operating on a level more aesthetic and cerebral, using these quirks to tell a parallel story about the stories we tell about ourselves on the internet, inviting us to consider who’s framing them, and how, and why, and to what end.
Angie Han, Mashable

The sound effects might be a little gimmicky, but there is something maybe profound about the way Zola features in the film.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

[Bravo] and Harris never try to push Zola into some kind of big statement about Who We Are Today… Like Twitter itself, it might not offer much substance, but someone who knows what she’s doing can make it a hell of a fun diversion.
Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly


Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

(Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

How is the movie’s pacing?

Bravo puts so much effort into keeping the rapid-fire pace in flux, while her small ensemble throw themselves into the unseemly hedonistic energy on display.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

I had expected Zola to be a frenzy… but a lot of the film is muted, making so much of the sordid things that Zola encounters seem almost prosaic.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Zola suffers from some pacing issues, particularly in the second half as Bravo tries to strike a balance between the film’s shifting tones.
Brent Hankins, The Lamplight Review

At a swift 90 minutes, the film has some pacing issues.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian


What is Zola reminiscent of?

Zola lands somewhere on the glitter-neon spectrum between Spring Breakers and Hustlers – which is to say: it’s pretty much a blast.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

It’s not prurient Spring Breakers, nor flashy, righteous Hustlers. It’s more meditative than that.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

The movie doesn’t have the clear-eyed smarts of a grifter fairy tale like Hustlers, much less the hypnotic power of a girls-gone-wild classic like Spring Breakers.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Spring Breakers might seem like the obvious aesthetic comparison, though Bravo’s energetic style has more in common with early Guy Ritchie movies.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

It makes Hustlers look like a Disney movie.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

This film has a vibe more like a female Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, but set in Florida, and without the drugs.
Manon de Reeper, Film Inquiry


Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

(Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

How is the cast?

[Colman] Domingo is a standout. As is the ever invaluable Riley Keough.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Keough, in particular, is golden with her cartoonish (and often appropriating) accent.
Matt Cipolla, The Spool

The casting of Riley Keough is a masterstroke… she displays previously untapped comic timing.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

The movie’s driving force, however, is the chemistry between Paige and Keough.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

You couldn’t ask for better actors to play the four principals, especially Paige.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Paige and Keough are a classic comedy duo whose energies are so in-sync and old-school you wish they’d take Stefani and Zola on the Vaudeville circuit.
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

If Paige and Keogh weren’t both such indelible, fiercely charismatic characters, the whole thing could easily fall apart.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

Braun is a scene-stealer, bringing Cousin-Greg-by-way-of-Pete-Davidson energy to poor guileless Derrek.
Angie Han, Mashable


Is it funny?

Extremely funny.
Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

Laugh-out-loud funny.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Things get dark and menacing, to be sure, but Zola is also filled with outrageous laughs.
David Bax, Battleship Pretension

[Made with] as much comedy as artfulness. And [Bravo] and O’Harris’ brisk writing is gut-busting stuff.
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post


Anna Kooris courtesy Sundance Institute
Director Janicza Bravo (Photo by Anna Kooris courtesy Sundance Institut

How is Janicza Bravo’s directing?

I am glad this story, the experience of a black woman, was translated to the screen by a black female filmmaker.
Manon de Reeper, Film Inquiry

Bravo is an accomplished hand and her stylistic choices, which often come right out of left field, avoid gimmickry for the most part. It’s a bold calling card.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian

Bravo shows promise as a filmmaker here.
Anthony Kaufman, Screen International

Bravo’s film marks a huge step up for her.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

Bravo is a gifted director I look forward to see more from.
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post


What else is noteworthy?

The music composed by Mica Levi is entrancing, melancholic followed by uplifting.
Manon de Reeper, Film Inquiry

Mica Levi does the music, pulling from trap, southern hip-hop, and iPhone to make something retro but contextually fitting.
Matt Cipolla, The Spool

The cinematography also boasts a dreamlike aesthetic, reminiscent of past A24 offerings like Spring Breakers and The Florida Project.
Brent Hankins, The Lamplight Review

There’s cool beauty, too, in the look of the film, shot on 16mm by Ari Wegner like a sinister fairy tale.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter


Are there any major criticisms?

There’s a growing shagginess to the structure that makes the climax feel gross and underwhelming… it ends on a total shrug.
Matt Cipolla, The Spool

There’s an unstructured messiness to the plotting which I initially liked… and for the first half we’re locked in, but near the final act, attention drifts.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian

Fittingly for something inspired by a tweet thread, it basically just stops rather than having an actual ending.
Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly

The only real failure is the decision to change the endpoint of the story; the original closing tweet was punchier.
Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

How much do we know about these characters in the end? Despite everything we endure together, this acquaintance extends no deeper than the glitter on their faces.
Peter Debruge, Variety

It’s ultimately unsatisfying — more style than substance.
Anthony Kaufman, Screen International


Zola premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, January 24.

#1

Zola (2020)
89%

#1
Adjusted Score: 90.765%
Critics Consensus: Zola captures the stranger-than-fiction appeal of the viral Twitter thread that inspired it -- and announces director/co-writer Janicza Bravo as a filmmaker to watch.
Synopsis: Directed by Janicza Bravo, this comedy-drama film is inspired by the Twitter thread that went viral in 2015. Using her... [More]
Directed By: Janicza Bravo

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

zombies game of thrones spy thriller Academy Awards MSNBC Freeform 24 frames sequels richard e. Grant spanish language SundanceTV sequel name the review ghosts HBO Go quibi The Purge Binge Guide Fox News Warner Bros. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt YouTube Premium latino asian-american Action versus crime thriller APB FXX E! nbcuniversal Rocky Women's History Month Toys Walt Disney Pictures Heroines Musical cats universal monsters First Look Dark Horse Comics Certified Fresh screenings Black Mirror American Society of Cinematographers Sundance Now Lifetime Christmas movies Photos stand-up comedy Disney Plus TV Land cancelled television Extras cops anime Britbox 2017 Film facebook Elton John football mockumentary Horror IFC Films Hallmark Christmas movies Amazon Studios Election hispanic laika Apple TV+ Chernobyl binge witnail zero dark thirty Western VH1 Starz Chilling Adventures of Sabrina streaming TruTV Countdown Lucasfilm revenge Rock dogs sag awards Travel Channel movie cancelled TV series See It Skip It Sony Pictures Sneak Peek Ellie Kemper scorecard romance The Witch indie Watching Series Funimation sports aliens WarnerMedia fast and furious Musicals kids Crackle dragons New York Comic Con Mary Poppins Returns Disney nature Fantasy CBS Superheroes hist romantic comedy vampires best mutant Spike true crime emmy awards Food Network TCA Awards rotten movies we love worst San Diego Comic-Con Pride Month Pixar indiana jones BBC America Sundance TV El Rey 71st Emmy Awards Oscars 2016 superhero Podcast Mary poppins LGBT game show remakes Disney+ Disney Plus TBS Mary Tyler Moore dramedy Super Bowl toronto discovery cars doctor who joker historical drama animated werewolf Interview christmas movies TLC Awards Tour Country hollywood Thanksgiving YA CNN SXSW Adult Swim 45 children's TV Year in Review golden globes Mudbound TCA Nickelodeon 72 Emmy Awards 20th Century Fox award winner reboot transformers 4/20 Polls and Games Biopics Film Festival cooking Pet Sematary TV ESPN Comic Book Fall TV X-Men teaser child's play technology natural history stoner Holidays Rom-Com Tomatazos book Peacock FX on Hulu Pop Nominations canceled TV shows IFC 2020 Kids & Family MTV screen actors guild space Video Games 21st Century Fox TCA Winter 2020 Calendar medical drama police drama Creative Arts Emmys Spring TV boxoffice Esquire based on movie travel President Baby Yoda Superheroe USA satire slashers VICE Infographic Apple TV Plus ITV critics Sundance GIFs Anna Paquin Holiday TNT Awards 2015 RT History TIFF Shondaland thriller Comedy festivals 007 CMT scary movies BET Awards blockbuster Vudu DC Universe Drama Pop TV television Paramount dc BAFTA crime drama SDCC Hulu twilight Red Carpet A24 period drama a nightmare on elm street Amazon Epix anthology Universal series DGA robots Avengers south america GoT comiccon social media documentary politics chucky Netflix Animation Marvel Crunchyroll Hallmark blaxploitation video on demand Star Trek biography Marathons Disney streaming service serial killer Mindy Kaling BBC FOX batman adventure cults Marvel Television Brie Larson Television Critics Association jamie lee curtis Syfy Nat Geo Mystery TV renewals finale political drama concert crime cartoon HBO Paramount Network OWN casting CBS All Access BET Star Wars cancelled TV shows renewed TV shows cinemax free movies strong female leads NYCC nfl what to watch spider-man Song of Ice and Fire The CW independent Trivia Rocketman Cosplay OneApp theme song green book PBS Trophy Talk Captain marvel miniseries disaster VOD 2018 Columbia Pictures halloween Cartoon Network History unscripted PlayStation franchise die hard Tumblr obituary DirecTV Comedy Central harry potter Classic Film psychological thriller Shudder MCU comic Arrowverse Logo DC Comics Emmys cancelled Stephen King Christmas Comics on TV criterion worst movies Discovery Channel toy story Family Tarantino Emmy Nominations Premiere Dates Box Office festival Teen Reality diversity Endgame YouTube FX sitcom crossover Music classics movies Set visit Sci-Fi Masterpiece Trailer Grammys talk show PaleyFest Television Academy mission: impossible foreign Bravo comics Spectrum Originals Disney Channel Winners USA Network all-time Writers Guild of America E3 Showtime A&E Best and Worst Apple Hear Us Out Schedule RT21 directors GLAAD ABC The Walking Dead Lionsgate Amazon Prime National Geographic Ovation war CW Seed spain films Valentine's Day docudrama YouTube Red HBO Max Opinion BBC One First Reviews Lifetime DC streaming service justice league spinoff Ghostbusters adaptation Pirates ratings composers Amazon Prime Video Summer psycho NBC news Tubi dceu Black History Month The Arrangement parents canceled singing competition video zombie Character Guide stop motion comedies TCM breaking bad supernatural Cannes reviews ABC Family venice Marvel Studios Reality Competition Turner 2019 LGBTQ Quiz AMC tv talk rotten Turner Classic Movies dark documentaries WGN Acorn TV science fiction elevated horror Winter TV TCA 2017 Netflix Christmas movies Martial Arts